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FIRST EDITION . ^ January, 1901 
Reprinted . , ^ ^^ Igo6 

Reprinted . ^ w7> Igao 
















DEC. 19, 1792 : APRIL 30, 1881 




THE present version of the first volume of Griechische 
Denker has been rendered directly from the German edition 
of 1896, published by Veit & Company of Leipsic, which 
was placed in my hands in June, 1899. ^ n the later stages 
of my work I have incurred a considerable obligation to 
the author, whose masterly knowledge of English has 
helped to purge the proof-sheets of my translation from 
the errors into which I had been betrayed. The confidence 
with which I now present it to English readers is largely 
due to the fact that every doubtful point has been 
thoroughly discussed in proof and revise between Professor 
Gomperz and myself. In no single instance has he failed 
to make his meaning clear to me, and I must take the 
sole responsibility for any errors that may remain. I 
welcome this opportunity, too, of expressing my cordial 
thanks to Frau Professor Gomperz, whose interest in the 
book and complete command of its subject have been of 
the utmost service to me throughout the course of my 

It would be a work of supererogation on my part, 
though it would add considerably to my pleasure, to 
introduce this book to English scholars ; but I may at least 
express the hope that I have not been entirely unsuccessful 
in conveying in the English language something of the 
brilliance and charm of style which the author's German 
readers recognize and admire in his own. In many of the 


passages quoted by Professor Gomperz from Plato and 
Thucydides I have availed myself of the renderings by the 
late Dr. Jowett, now the property of Balliol College, Oxford, 
and I am glad to acknowledge the benefit which my work 
has derived from them. 

The second volume of " Greek Thinkers," dealing mainly 
with Socrates and Plato, will, it is hoped, be published in 
the course of this year ; and since, to my regret, I am not 
at leisure to continue the work myself, steps have already 
been taken to find a competent translator. The third 
volume of the German edition will include the author's 
indexes, but I have thought it advisable to supply the 
present instalment of the work with a provisional index 
of subjects and names. I should add that, in translating 
the notes and additions to this volume, I have, with the 
author's sanction, introduced sundry technical changes, 
chiefly in reference to English books or to foreign works in 
English editions. In the instance of Zeller's Philosophie 
der Griechen, I have made an exception to this practice. 
Professor Gomperz quotes uniformly from the last German 
edition of that work, which has been considerably modified 
and enlarged since the English rendering was effected. 

L. M. 


Jan. i, 1901, 


MY design in the present undertaking is to compose a 
comprehensive picture of the department of knowledge in 
which, during several decades past, I have been at pains 
to increase the material and to sift the problems. The 
work, which summarizes the labours of a lifetime, will be 
complete in three volumes, and will, it is hoped, be 
accessible to wide circles of cultivated readers. The point 
of view from which I have written is not that of any one- 
sided and exclusive school. I endeavour to do equal 
justice to the different tendencies of ancient thought, every- 
one of which has contributed its part to the complete 
structure of modern intellectual civilization, to consider 
them all impartially, and to judge them fairly. The 
historical relief in which the narrative is set will not be 
unduly contracted, and its subjective features will be con- 
fined to emphasizing what is essential as sharply as possible, 
and to sundering as thoroughly as possible what is enduring 
and significant from what is indifferent and transient. 
Portions of the story of religion, of literature, and of the 
special sciences, indispensable to an understanding of 
the speculative movement, its causes and effects, will be 
incorporated in the work. The boundaries dividing these 
provinces appear to me in all cases to be floating. The 
ideal I have in view could only completely be realized in 
an exhaustive universal history of the mind of antiquity. 
When so monumental an undertaking has been successfully 


effected I shall be the first to admit that the present far 
more modest attempt is superseded and antiquated. 

The second volume and the third or concluding volume 
will comprise the remaining six books, entitled respectively, 
(4) "Socrates and the Socratics," (5) "Plato and the 
Academy," (6) "Aristotle and his Successors," (7) "The 
Older Stoa," (8) "The Garden of Epicurus," and (9) 
" Mystics, Sceptics, and Syncretists." In order not 
unduly to increase the compass of the work, the evidence 
of authorities has had to be reduced to the smallest 
dimensions, and, with regard to references to the later 
literature of the subject, economy has had to be practised 
in all cases excepting those where rny own exposition may 
claim the greatest originality and those, again, where it 
can claim the least. In the latter instance the obligation 
has arisen of acknowledging my close dependence on pre- 
decessors, and, in the former, of advancing grounds for 
my radical divergence from traditional views. 

Finally, I may be permitted, not to palliate, but to 
apologize for, the shortcomings of rny work in the phrase 
employed in a letter of Gustave Flaubert to Georges Sand : 
"Je fais tout ce que je peux continucllement pour <largir 
rna cervelle, et je travaille dans la since*rit6 de mon cceur ; 
le reste ne depend pas de moi." 












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ALL beginnings are obscure, whether owing to their 
minuteness or their apparent insignificance. Where they do 
not escape perception, they are liable to elude observation. 
The sources of history, too, can only be tracked at a 
foot-pace. They must be followed to their fount, like the 
current of a stream which springs in a mountain fastness* 
Such steps or paces are called inferences. They are of 
two kinds, according as they proceed from causes or 
from effects. In the second case, we try to infer the 
existence and the nature of causes from the existence 
and the nature of effects. Inferences of that type are 
indispensable, but frequently fallacious. For though every 
cause, taken by itself, produces the same invariable effect, 
yet the converse proposition does not by any means 
hold good. Each effect is not invariably tie product of 
one and the same cause. The condition known as " plurality 
of causes" plays an important part in the intellectual no 
less than in the ^physical universe. The contrary process 
yields more trustworthy results. It starts from the causes, 
from the series of great and tangible factors, plainly 
manifest or readily to be found, which must have in- 
fluenced the events to be accounted for, and in which 
the degree of such influence is the sole object of doubt. 
In the present instance, where we are dealing with the 
higher intellectual life of a nation, the first place is 
VOL, I. B 2 


claimed by its geographical conditions and the peculiar 
character of its homes. 

Hellas is a sea-girt mountain-land. The poverty of her 
soil corresponds to the narrowness of her river-valleys. 
And here we find the first clue to some of the essential 
features of Hellenic evolution proper. It is clear, for 
instance, that a permanent home and a steady and manifold 
care and attention were offered to any seeds of civilization 
which might be deposited in her soil. Her mountain- 
barriers served her in the office of stone walls, breaking the 
force of the storm of conquest which sweeps unchecked 
across the plains. Each hilly canton was a potential seat 
of culture. Each could develop a separate type of that 
strongly marked individualism, which was ultimately to 
prove so favourable to the rich and many-sided civilization 
of Greece, so fatal to the political concentration of her 
powers. The country was full of piquant contrasts. Her 
Arcadia an inland canton, sunk in torpid provincialism 
vas matched at the opposite extreme by the extent and cur- 
vature of the coast. Her sea-board was larger than Spain's, 
her mainland smaller than Portugal's. Other conditions, 
too, fostered this variety of natural gifts. The most diverse 
trades and professions were practised in the closest 
proximity. Seamen and shepherds, hunters and husband- 
men, flourished side by side, and the fusion of their 
families produced in ater generations a sum of talents 
and aptitudes complementary to each other. Again, the 
good fairies who presided at the birth of Greece could 
have laid no more salutary blessing in her cradle than the 
"poverty which was ever her familiar friend/ 1 It worked 
powerfully in three ways for the advancement of her 
civilization. It acted as a spur to compel her to exert all 
her powers ; it served as a further defence against invasion, 
for the comparatively poor country must have seemed but 
indifferent booty a fact noted in connection with Attica 
by the most philosophical historian of antiquity ; and last, 
and chiefly, it lent a forcible Impulse to commerce, 
navigation, emigration, and the foundation of colonies* 

The bays that offer the best harbourage on the Greek 


peninsula open towards the east, and the islands and 
islets, with which that region is thickly sown, afford, as it 
were, a series of stepping-stones to the ancient seats of 
Asiatic civilization. Greece may be said to look east and 
south. Her back is turned to the north and west, with 
their semi-barbaric conditions. Another circumstance of 
quite exceptional good fortune may be ranged with these 
natural advantages. There was Greece in her infancy on 
the one side, and the immemorial civilizations on the 
other: who was to ply between them? The link was 
found as it were by deliberate selection in those hardy 
adventurers of the sea, the merchant-people of Phoenicia^ 
a nation politically of no account, but full of daring and 
eager for gain. Thus it happened that the Greeks acquired 
the elements of culture from Babylon and Egypt without 
paying the forfeit of independence. The benefits of this 
ordinance are obvious. The favoured country enjoyed a 
steadier rate of progress, a more unbroken evolution, a 
comparative immunity from the sacrifice of her national 
resources. And if further proof be required, take the fate 
of the Celts and Germans, whom Rome enslaved at the 
moment that she civilized; or take the sad lot of the 
savage tribes of to-day, who receive the blessing of 
civilization at the hands of almighty Europe, and wear it 
too often as a curse. 

Still, the determining influence in the intellectual life of 
Greece must be sought in her colonial system. Colonies 
were founded at all times, and under every form of govern- 
ment. The Monarchy, a period of perpetual conflict, fre- 
quently witnessed the spectacle of settled inhabitants giving 
way to immigrating tribes, and seeking a new home beyond 
the seas. The Oligarchy, which rested entirely on the 
permanent alliance between noble birth and territorial 
possession, was often constrained to expel the "pauvre 
gentilhomme," the type and symbol of disorder, and to 
furnish him with fresh estates in foreign parts, whither he 
would speedily be followed by further victims of the incessant 
party strife Meantime, the growth of the maritime trade 
of Greece, the flourishing condition of her industries, and 


her increasing population, soon made it necessary to 
establish fixed commercial stations, an uninterrupted 
supply of raw material, and safe channels for the importa- 
tion of food. The same outlets were utilized, chiefly 
under the Democracy, to relieve the indigent poor and to 
draft off the surplus population. Thus, at an early period, 
there arose that vast circle of Greek plantations which 
stretched from the homes of the Cossacks on the Don to 
the oases of the Sahara, and from the eastern shore of 
the Black Sea to the coast-line of Spain. Great Greece 
and Greater Greece, if the first name belong to the 
Hellenic portion of Southern Italy, the second might 
well be given to the sum of these settlements outside. 
The mere number and diversity of the colonies practically 
ensured the prospect that any seeds of civilization would 
happen on suitable soil, and this prospect was widened 
and brightened to an incalculable degree by the nature 
of the settlements and the manner of their founda- 
tion. Their sites were selected at those points of the 
coast which offered the best facilities for successful com- 
mercial enterprise. The emigrants themselves were chiefly 
young men of a hardy and courageous disposition, who 
would bequeath their superior qualities to their numerous 
issue. Men of duller parts, who lived by rule and rote, 
were not likely to turn their backs on their homes except 
under stress of necessity. Again, though a single city- 
state took the lead in the foundation of each colony, it 
would frequently be reinforced by a considerable foreign 
contingent, and this cross-breeding of Hellenic tribes would 
be further extended by an admixture of non-Hellenic 
blood, owing to the preponderance of the men over the 
women among the original emigrants. Thus, every colony 
served the purpose of experiment Greek and non-Greek 
racial elements were mixed in varying proportions, and 
the test was applied to their resulting powers of resistance 
and endurance. Local customs, tribal superstitions, and 
national prejudices swiftly disappeared before the better 
sense of the settlers. Contact with foreign civilizations, 
however imperfectly developed, could not but enlarge their 


mental horizon to a very appreciable degree. The average 
of capacity rose by leaps and bounds, and the average of 
intellect was heightened by its constant engagement in 
new and difficult tasks. Merit counted for more than 
descent. A man there was a man ; good work could 
command a good wage, and poor work meant a hard bed 
and indifferent protection. The whole system of economic, 
political, and social life cried out to be reorganized and 
reformed, and in these circumstances the force of mere 
tradition and the reign of unintelligent routine were 
involved in rapid decline. True, some of the settlements 
succumbed to the attacks of hostile residents ; others, 
again, were so far outnumbered by the natives that their 
individuality was gradually absorbed. But from first to 
last the communication of the colonies with their mother- 
city and mother-country a communication fostered by 
religious ties and frequently strengthened by later arrivals 
was sufficiently intimate to preserve in all its parts the 
reciprocal benefits which proved so eminently fruitful 
Greece found in her colonies the great playground of her 
intellect. There she proved her talents in every variety 
of circumstances, and there she was able to train them to 
the height of their latent powers. Her colonial life retained 
for centuries its fresh and buoyant spirit. The daughter- 
cities in most respects outstripped their mother in the race. 
To them can be traced nearly all the great innovations, 
and the time was to come when they would steep them- 
selves in intellectual pursuits as well, when the riddles of 
the world and of human life were to find a permanent 
home and enduring curiosity in their midst. 

2. There is a period in Greek history which bears a 
most striking resemblance to the close of our own Middle 
Ages, when the repetition of similar causes produced 
similar effects. 

On the threshold of modern Europe stands the era of 
the great discoverers, and the geographical limits of the 
Greek horizon at this time were likewise wonderfully 
extended. On the far east and west of the world, as it 
was then known, the outline emerged from the mist. 


Precise and definite knowledge replaced the obscurity of 
legend. Shortly after 800 B.C., the eastern shore of the 
Black Sea began to be colonized by Milesians; Sinope 
was founded in 785, and Trapezunt about thirty years 
later. Soon after the middle of the same century, Eubcea 
and Corinth sent out the first Greek settlers to Sicily, 
where Syracuse was founded in 734 B.C., and before the 
century's end the ambition and enterprise of Miletus had 
taken fast foothold at the mouths of the Nile. Three 
conclusions are involved in the fact of this impulse to 
expansion. It points to a rapid growth of population on 
the Greek peninsula and in the older colonies. It presumes 
a considerable development of Greek industry and com- 
merce ; and, finally, it serves to measure the progress in 
ship-building and in kindred arts. Take navigation, for 
instance. Where vessels formerly had hugged the shore, 
and had not ventured in deep waters, now they boldly 
crossed the sea. The mercantile marine was protected by 
men-of-war. Seaworthy battleships came into use with 
raised decks and three rows of oars, the first of them being 
built for the Samians in 705 B.C. Naval engagements 
were fought as early as 664 B.C., so that the sea acquired 
the utmost significance in the civilization of Hellas for 
the commerce of peace and war. At the same time, the 
progress of industry was fostered by a notable innovation. 
A current coinage was created. The " bullocks " of hoary 
antiquity and the copper "kettles" and "tripods" of a 
later date successively passed into desuetude, and the 
precious metals replaced these rougher makeshifts as 
measures of value and tokens of exchange. Babylonian 
and Egyptian merchants had long since familiarized the 
market with silver and gold in the form of bars and rings, 
and the Babylonians had even introduced the official stamp 
as a guarantee of standard and weight. A convenient 
shape was now added to the qualities of worth and dura- 
bility which make gold and silver the most practical 
symbols of exchange, and the metals were coined for 
current use. This invention, borrowed from Lydia about 
700 B.C. by the Phocaeans of Ionia, conferred remarkable 


benefits on commerce. It facilitated intercourse and 
extended its bounds, and its effects may be compared with 
those of the bill of exchange, introduced in Europe by 
Jewish and Lombardy merchants at the close of the Middle 
Ages. Similar, if not greater, in effect was the change 
in the methods of warfare. The old exclusive service of 
the cavalry, which had flourished in the dearth of pastoral 
and corn-land as the privilege of wealthy landowners, was 
now reinforced by the hoplites, or heavy-armed infantry, 
who far exceeded the cavalry in numbers. The change was 
analogous and its consequences were equal in importance 
to that which enabled the armed peasantry of Switzer- 
land to disperse the chivalry of Burgundy and Austria. 
New orders of the population achieved prosperity and 
culture, and were filled with a strong sense of self-esteem. 
A sturdy middle class asserted itself by the side of the 
old squirearchy, and bore with increasing impatience 
the yoke of the masterful nobles. But here, as elsewhere, 
the contradiction between actual conditions of strength 
and legal dues of prerogative became the cause of civil 
strife. A battle of classes broke out. It spread to the 
peasants, where persistent ill-usage and by no means 
infrequent serfdom had sown the seeds of revolt, and out 
of the rents and ruins of society there was hatched a brood 
of usurpers, who partly destroyed and partly set aside the 
existing order of things. They constructed in its place a 
form of government which, though commonly short-lived, 
was not without notable results. The Orthagorides, the 
Cypselides, the Pisistratides, a Polycrates, and many 
another, may be compared with the Italian tyrants of the 
late Middle Ages the Medici, the Sforza, or the Visconti 
precisely as the party feuds of the one epoch recall in 
the other the conflict between the lords and the guilds. 
The obscure origin and questionable title of these newly 
founded dynasties were discreetly veiled in the glitter of 
warlike undertakings, of alliances with foreign potentates, 
public works on a lavish scale, splendid buildings, and 
munificent benefactions, combined with an enhanced regard 
for the safety of the national sanctuaries and for the 


encouragement of the fine arts. But we must look deeper for 
the most lasting result of this entr'acte in history. It tran- 
quillized party feeling ; it overthrew the rule of the nobles 
without breaking the foundations of social welfare ; it 
poured new wine in the old vessels, revealing unsuspected 
possibilities in the extant forms of the constitution. The 
" tyranny " served as a bridge to the system of democracy, 
first in a moderate, and at last in its fully developed shape. 
Meantime, the stream of intellectual culture found 
broader and deeper channels. The ballads of the heroes, 
which had been sung for centuries in the halls of Ionian 
nobles to the accompaniment of the lyre, slowly fell into 
desuetude. New forms of poetry began to emerge, and 
with them, in some instances, the poet's personality emerged 
from the material of his song. Subjective poetry came 
into existence, as was bound to happen, when, as now, 
men escaped in ever-increasing numbers from the groove 
of hereditary conventions. The State was involved in 
change and vicissitude, society was governed by uncertain 
conditions, and individual life accordingly acquired a more 
adventurous complexion. Men's talents would be more 
sharply defined, their independent activity stimulated, their 
self-reliance encouraged. In civic and party business a 
man would play his own part, advising and blaming as 
counsellor or critic, and boldly giving vent among his fellows 
to his sentiments of expectation or disappointment, his joy, 
his sorrow, his anger, and his scorn. He became a unit 
in society, self-made for the most part, and entirely self- 
dependent, and would deem his private concerns of 
sufficient importance to display them in the light of 
publicity. He poured out his heart to his fellow-citizens, 
making them the arbiters in his love-suits and law-suits, 
and appealing to their sympathy in the injuries he suffered, 
the successes he achieved, the pleasures he enjoyed. A 
new spirit, too, was breathed in the older poetical forms. 
Myth and legend were refashioned by the masters of choric 
song in differing, if not in contradictory, modes. The 
didactic poets still aimed at system, order, and harmony 
in their treatment of the material, but side by side with 


those endeavours a manifold diversity was to be remarked, 
and a licence in criticism, expressing itself in a prejudice 
or preference in respect to this or that hero or heroine of 
holy tradition. Thus, the neutral tints of the background 
were ever more and more relieved by strong, self-conscious 
figures standing out from the uniform mass. Habits of 
free-will and feeling were created, and with them there 
grew the faculty of independent thought, which was 
constantly engaged and exercised in wider fields of 

3. The Greeks were naturally keen-sighted. The faith- 
ful representation of sensible objects and occurrences con- 
stitutes one of the chief charms of the Homeric poems, and 
the imitation of figures and gestures by a hand that 
waxed in cunning now began to succeed to the arts of 
language and speech. Greece became the apprentice of 
older civilized countries, turning to Egypt above all for 
the paramount example of artistic instinct, natural joy, and 
engaging humour. But even in the limited sphere of the 
observation of men's ways and manners, fresh material 
was constantly collected. As travelling grew easier, its 
occasions would be multiplied. Not merely the merchant, 
ever intent on new gain, but the fugitive murderer, the 
exiled loser in the civil strife, the restless emigrant wander- 
ing on the face of the earth, the adventurer whose spear 
was at the service of the highest bidder, who would eat 
the bread of an Assyrian monarch to-day and to-morrow 
would pour down his burning throat the barley-water of 
Egypt, who was equally at home in the fruit-laden valley 
of the Euphrates and in the sands of the Nubian desert, 
all of these would add to the sum of knowledge about 
places, peoples, and mankind. The frequent meeting or 
regular congregation in certain centres of Greeks of all 
cities and tribes served the purpose of huge reservoirs, in 
which the observations of individuals and the reports they 
made to their fellow-townsmen were collected and stored 
The shrine of the oracle at Delphi was a chief example 
of the first, while the second condition was fulfilled by the 
recurring festivals of the Games, among which those at 


Olympia held the foremost rank. The sanctuary at Delphi, 
sacred to * Pythian Apollo, was situated in the shadow of 
steep, beetling crags. Thither would come, and there 
would meet, an endless line of pilgrims from all parts of 
Greece and her colonies private citizens, representatives 
of whole states, and, since the middle of the seventh 
century at least, occasional envoys from foreign courts. 
They all came to consult the god ; but the answers they 
received were mostly the result of the priest' s ingenious 
manipulation of the stock of useful knowledge deposited 
by former clients. And f<tw indeed can have departed 
from that romantic mountain glen without finding their 
imagination quickened and their experience augmented by 
contact with their companions on the road. The Games 
which we have mentioned were celebrated in the broad 
river-valley of the Alpheius, and the attractiveness of that 
brilliant spectacle increased with each generation. The 
programme was constantly extended by the inclusion of 
new kinds of competitions, and the spectators, who at first 
were drawn merely from the surrounding country, gradually 
began to arrive as is shown by the winners' lists, extant 
since 776 B.C. from all points in the circumference of the 
wide Hellenic world. Nor would their intercourse be 
confined to the exchange of news and information. Men 
would take one another's measure ; opinions would be 
freely canvassed ; the merits of the different institutions in 
that land of many subdivisions their customs, habits, 
and beliefs would form topics of general discussion. 
Comparison engendered judgment, and judgment brought 
reflection in its train to bear on the causes of the differ- 
ences and on the permanent element in change. It 
induced, that is to say, an inquiry for the common canons 
which obtained in the commerce and dogma of daily life. 
The observation of common things, growing keener and 
richer by experience, led to comparative discussion and 
estimation, and, 'finally, to reflective criticism. Many a 
proud stream was nourished by that source. To it we 
refer sententious poetry, the invention of types of human 
character, and the proverbial wisdom which thoughtful 


citizens and philosophic statesmen have sown broadcasl 
in the world. 

The art of writing, the main vehicle for the exchange 
of thought, helped to distribute the fresh acquisitions ol 
knowledge. Writing, it is true, was no novelty in Greece 
When we read in the Homeric poems of the intimate 
intercourse with Phoenicia, we readily conceive that the 
sharp-witted Greek would have borrowed that wonderfu 
aid to the preservation and communication of thought frorr 
the Canaanitish dealers, for the customer must often have 
surprised the merchant making entries in his account-book 
Nay, the art of writing would appear to have been familiar 
to some of the Greeks at least, even before that date. 11 
is no more possible that the syllabic writing on the recentl} 
discovered Cypric monuments, with its awkward and clumsj 
devices, could have been later than the use of the simple 
Semitic letters, than that the invention of the battle-axe 
could have followed that of the musket. All that was 
wanted was a convenient and easily fashioned material, 
The want took some time to supply. The remedy 
was not found till soon after 660 B.C., when Greek trade 
with Egypt under Psammetich I. received a notable 
impulse. Then a writing-material of a kind which can 
hardly be improved was afforded by the pulp of the papyrus 
shrub, split into slender and flexible strips. From city tc 
city, from land to land, from century to century, the sheets 
of written symbols now began to fly. The circulation 
of thought was accelerated, the commerce of intellect 
enlarged, and the continuity of culture guaranteed, in a 
degree which can well-nigh be compared with that which 
marked the invention of the printing-press at the dawn oJ 
modern history. To the oral delivery of poems, designed 
to captivate the hearer, there was presently to be addec 
their silent appeal to the solitary enjoyment of the reader 
who could weigh, compare, and discriminate to the top o: 
his critical bent. Yet a little while, and literary com- 
munication was to break the last of its bonds, and the 
beginnings of prose composition were to supersede the 
era of metric language. 


4. The west coast of Asia Minor is the cradle of the 
intellectual civilization of Greece. Its line stretches from 
north to south, but the heart of the movement must be 
sought in the country enclosing the centre of the line, and 
in the adjacent islands. There nature poured her gifts 
with lavish profusion, and those on whom they fell 
belonged to the Ionian tribe, at all times the most talented 
among Hellenes. The birthplace of the lonians is obscure. 
We know that their blood was mixed with elements from 
central Greece, if, indeed, they were not a mere product 
of such fusion, and their diverse origin is doubtless mainly 
accountable for the complexity of their natural gifts. At 
least, it was not till they were settled in their new Asiatic 
home that their individuality reached its full powers. As 
bold seafarers and energetic traders, they enjoyed every 
benefit of the keen and fertilizing influence to be derived 
from intercourse with foreign nations in a more advanced 
state of civilization. They had the further advantage of 
intermarrying with other fine races, such as the Carians 
and Phoenicians, a fact which indisputably increased their 
original diversity of talent. The lonians were the furthest 
removed of all Greeks from that fatal stagnation to 
which dwellers in isolated countries succumb so readily, 
It must be added that they lacked the sense of security 
which friendly mountain-barriers and an infertile soil 
bestow. The proximity of civilized nations, highly de- 
veloped and united in a State, was as prejudicial to 
the political independence of the lonians as it was bene- 
ficial to their intellectual progress. The yoke of foreign 
dominion which was laid on one part of the people, the 
compulsory exile in which another part was driven, the 
slow but sure corrosion of its manhood by the inroad of 
Oriental luxury, these were among the consequences of 
the devastating attacks by barbarians from Cimmeria, 
followed by the victories of the Lydians and Persians. 
The nett result of this cross-series of good influences and 
bad was the rapid rise and swift decline of a period of 
prosperity. The ripe fruit fell all too soon, and the seeds 
it dropped were borne by fugitives from the foreigner's 


yoke, who would return now and again to the safe pro- 
tection of Attica's fertile soil. 

The evolution we have been describing took its course 
in but a few centuries ; its splendid results included the 
full bloom of heroic minstrelsy, the triumph of the new 
forms of verse we have mentioned as the heirs of epic 
poetry, and, lastly, the rise of scientific pursuits and philo- 
sophical speculation. New answers were given to the 
eternal question of mankind What is the meaning of 
self, God, and the world ? and these new answers gradually 
replaced or reshaped the former acceptations of religious 

5. Greek religion is a vessel which has been replenished 
from the treasury of enlightened minds. Poets and artists 
have combined to idealize its gods as types of perfect 
beauty. Still, its ultimate springs are those from which 
mankind has derived an infinite variety of figures and 
forms, partly beautiful and wholesome, partly hurtful and 

Human thought follows twin channels. It obeys the 
law of likeness, and it obeys the law of contiguity. 
While similar ideas suggest one another, yet the same 
result is evolved by ideas which occur simultaneously or 
in immediate succession. An absent friend, for instance, 
may be recalled to our thoughts not merely by the sight 
of his portrait ; the rooms in which he dwelt, the tools 
which he handled, serve the purpose just as well. These 
laws are summarily known as the laws of the association 
of ideas, and the conception of natural phenomena, which 
may be called the personification of nature, is directly and 
inevitably due to their action. Whenever the savage 
perceives a motion or some other effect, which, whether 
by its rarity or by its intimate connection with his interests, 
strikes his mind strongly enough to set his associative 
faculties at work, he will infallibly conclude that the occur- 
rence is the outcome of an exercise of will. The reason 
is extremely simple. A savage or civilized man perceives 
the connection of will-power with movement or, indeed, 
with effects of any kind every day and hour of his life ; 


and no other combination whatever enters in his direct 

Observation of other living beings continually strengthens 
the association which springs from this inner experience. 
Indeed, effects of all kinds and the deliberate exercise of 
will-power are connected so frequently in our mind that 
where one of the two is found we confidently look for the 
other. This expectation has been gradually confined to 
narrower limits by the operation of experiences of a 
different order, chief of which may be mentioned the 
gradual dominion which man has usurped over nature. 
But in instances where the associative force of ideas is 
strengthened by powerful passions, or where it is insuffi- 
ciently checked by experience of an opposite tendency, 
or, again, where it is reinforced by the second principle 
of association, which would here be expressed by a likeness 
between an unintentional and an intentional event, in such 
instances our expectation breaks all bounds, and reduces 
the civilized man, for moments at least, to the level of the 
primitive savage. These are cases in which we are enabled 
to test the truth of that explanation by a kind of experi- 
ment. Take the view of the savage, for example. A 
watch, or a gun, or any other unfamiliar mechanism, he 
regards as a living being. But in our own instance, we 
are not thrown back on such primitive conceptions. We 
do not unconditionally refer lightning and thunder, plague 
and volcano, to the activity of such beings. Nevertheless, 
there are moments when even a scientific man admits the 
thought of outside purpose and power, even though he be 
unable to assign a definite form to the power whose in- 
tervention he believes in. Among such occasions may 
be counted any exceptional windfall, or any unparalleled 
misfortune, especially when the obvious causes of the 
event happen not to be in adequate proportion to the 
effect that is produced. Even a trivial effect may afford 
an illustration of our argument when the conditions of its 
origin as in the dispensations of the gambling-table 
defy all . human calculation. Such inarticulate thoughts 
stand wholly apart from the religious beliefs held at this 


date by civilized mankind. It is not merely that the un- 
believer is affected by them ; the man of orthodox creed 
is frequently quite unable to bring the suggestions that 
flash across his mind into harmony with the dogmas that 
he has' formed for himself or accepted from others as to 
the government of the world and the nature of its ruler. 
This Puck of superstition, from whose visitation no man 
is completely exempt, is the wan and spectral image of 
that mighty and universal generating power whence is 
derived an endless host of phantoms of all shapes and 

A second step towards the formation of religion follows 
imperceptibly on the first. We have marked the assump- 
tion that an effect is due to an exercise of will. Next 
comes the observation that a series of frequently recurring 
effects is to be referred to one and the same natural object. 
Thus natural objects would be regarded as the animate 
and volitional authors of such processes, and human instinct 
and inclination, human passion and design, were ascribed 
to them in their capacity of exercising an effective will- 
power after the human pattern. Wonder and admiration 
were paid to them, and according as their operations were 
useful and wholesome, or the reverse, they were regarded 
with love or fear. The great objects of nature exert a very 
considerable influence over human life, and it was chiefly in 
such cases that man would feel himself impelled to win their 
favour, to confirm their good will, and to turn their possible 
hostility to an auspicious disposition. He would endeavour 
to persuade the heaven to send fertilizing rain on earth 
instead of destructive storm ; he would try to induce the 
sun to impart a gentle warmth instead of a scorching heat ; 
he would implore the flood not to sweep away his 
dwelling, but to bear his frail craft uninjured on its mighty 
stream. He would seek to mollify the powers that govern 
his existence by petitions, thanksgivings, and offerings 
means he found so efficacious in the instance of his earthly 
masters. He would invoke their gracious protection, he 
would thank them for their benefactions in the past, and 
he would supplicate for their forgiveness when he feared 
VOL. I. c 


to have Incurred their displeasure. In a word, he would 
employ both prayer and sacrifice in the forms suggested 
by his limited experience. He would possess a religion 
and a cult. 

Hosts of spirits and demons, not wholly disembodied, 
and yet not wholly material, speedily range themselves in 
line with these objects of worship, which we may call 
natural fetishes. Savage man, unacquainted as he was 
with the finer distinctions of scientific thought, was led to 
believe in these beings by a triple set of inferences. The 
first was drawn from real or apparent observations of the 
outer world ; the second from the inner or moral life ; 
and the third depended on observations taken at the 
transition from life to death in the human and animal 

The smell of a flower teaches the primitive man that 
there afe objects not the less real because they evade his 
sight and touch. The wind, whose material nature he can 
but partially understand, makes him acquainted with 
objects that can be felt, but not seen. Shadows, that 
contain the outline of an object without its material resist- 
ance, and still more the coloured images reflected in a 
sheet of water, bring astonishment and confusion to the 
mind of primitive man. In both instances he is aware of 
something precisely resembling the material object, which 
yet mocks his endeavour to seize it and touch it Dream- 
pictures serve but to increase his confusion. He perceived 
them, he thought, with all his senses at once ; they stood 
in bodily shape before his eyes, and still in the morning 
the doors of his hut were as firmly closed as overnight. 
Men and beasts, plants, stones, and tools of all kinds, 
stood indisputably before him, plainly perceptible to sight, 
hearing, and touch, and yet in many instances there could 
actually have been no room for them in the limited 
accommodation of his dwelling. Thus he is driven to the 
conclusion that, like perfumes and winds, shadows and 
reflections, they wore the souls of things. Occasionally it 
happens that the visions of sleep require and demand a 
different sort of explanation. The dreamer is not always 


receiving visits from the souls of other persons or things. 
Frequently he believes himself to be traversing long dis- 
tances, and conversing with his friends in far-off homes. 
Hence he concludes that something his own soul or one 
of his souls, the belief in a plurality of souls being both 
natural and common, has temporarily left his body. He 
is subject to the same experiences with the same 
train of inferences in the state which we have learnt to 
call hallucination. The irregular life led by primitive man, 
with its long fastings and sudden excesses, rendered him 
as liable to such attacks as to heavy and exciting dreams. 
Those souls or essences of things must be taken as standing 
in the closest relation with the things themselves, which 
are affected by whatever affects their souls. In popular 
belief it is still a bad omen to tread on a man's shadow, 
and in one of the tribes of South Africa the crocodile is 
believed to get a man in its power if it merely snaps at 
the reflection of the man which is thrown on the water 
from the bank. So the doings and sufferings of persons 
in dreams is of the gravest import to the living originals. 

But popular belief endows the soul with far greater 
power and with practical independence by a second series 
of considerations, depending, not on the observations of 
sense, but on those of the processes of will. So long as 
the inner life of primitive man moves in a uniform and 
even groove, he has little cause to reflect on the seat and 
origin of his will and endeavour. It is when the blood 
begins to surge in his veins, when he glows and thrills 
with emotion, that his beating heart teaches him of its 
own accord how that region of his body is the theatre 
of occurrences which he is impelled to explain to himself 
by the light of his own perception and of the analogies 
already at his disposal. Hitherto he has been accustomed 
to connect each particular effect with a particular Being ; 
and the more violent and sudden the change, the less he 
will be able to rid himself of the impression that some 
Being of the kind is stirring and ruling in his own breast. 
There are moments when he is seized by an overpowering 
passion. Rage, for instance, fills his heart and drives him 


to a deed of bloodshed that he may presently bitterly 
repent. Or, again, in the very act of committing it, a 
sudden impulse makes him hold his hand ; and it is in 
moments such as these that he is overcome by an irresis- 
tible belief in one or more Beings, within him or without 
him, who drive him to action or restrain him from the 
act. Man's belief in the soul reaches its most effective 
point in the circumstances which accompany the extinction 
of the individual life. It is once more the cases of 
sudden change which make the deepest impression on 
the observer, and give the lead to his reflection. If dying 
were always a gradual decay and a final folding of the hands 
to sleep, or if the dead man were always changed beyond 
recognition, the inferences drawn from the cessation of life 
might have taken a different form. Frequently, however, 
no outward changes disturb the features of the dead. 
Death comes as a sudden transition from complete vigour 
to complete silence, and the spectator asks himself to 
what causes is due this dread and terrifying transformation. 
Something, he says in answer to himself, has departed 
from the dead man that lent him life and movement 
A cessation of powers and qualities which a moment ago 
were in evidence is taken literally as a departure and as a 
separation in space. The warm breath, so mysterious in 
its origin, which the living body always exhaled, has been 
extinguished, and the reflection is obvious that the source 
of the arrested processes of life has perished simultaneously 
with the breath. Violent deaths, when life seems to leave 
the body with the blood pouring from the wound, awaken 
sometimes a belief that life itself Is borne on that crimson 
stream, A second theory is to be remarked among some 
other peoples. The reflection in the pupil of the eye which 
vanishes at the approach of death is there regarded as the 
source of the processes of life and animation. But these 
attributes, after all, are most commonly ascribed to the 
warm breath or steam which proceeds from within the 
living organism, and by far the most of the words which 
are used In different languages to signify "soul" and 
" spirit w express that primary meaning. We saw in both 


explanations of the visions of sleep that the soul was 
supposed to be separable from the body. Their temporary 
separation accounts for states of unconsciousness, catalepsy, 
and ecstasy, just as the explanation of pathological con- 
ditions of all kinds, such as madness, convulsions, and the 
like, may best be sought in the entry of a foreign soul 
into the body. The instance of demonic possession is a 
case in point. The difference is that the separation of 
the two elements in death is regarded as enduring and 

We see, then, that the breath is regarded as an 
independent being, but there is no ground to assume 
that when it has left the body it must perish as well. 
On the contrary, the picture of the beloved dead is an 
unfading possession ; his soul, in other words, hovers round 
us. And how so primitive man asked himself should it 
be otherwise ? The soul is plainly impelled to haunt as 
long as it can the old familiar places, and to linger about 
the objects which it cared for and loved. The last doubt 
on this question is dispelled by the frequent visitation 
of the image of the departed in the dreams of survivors 
in the night-time. 

Two results ensue from the assumption of independent 
souls or spirits outliving their connection with the human 
and maybe the animal body. In the first place, it gave 
rise to a second class of objects of worship parallel to the 
natural fetishes. Secondly, it supplied a pattern on which 
imagination could mould a series of other Beings, which 
either existed independently or temporarily occupied a 
visible habitation. There was no lack of urgent motives 
for the adoption of this creed, and for such operations of 
the fancy on the part of primitive man. He was governed 
by outward circumstances in a hardly conceivable degree. 
His desire to enlighten the darkness that surrounded him 
at every step was only matched by his inability to give it 
practical satisfaction. Sickness and health, famine and 
plenty, success and failure in the chase, in sport, and in war, 
followed one another in bewildering succession. Savage 
man naturally wished to recognize the agents of his fortune, 


and to influence them on his own behalf, but his power- 
lessness to fulfil that longing in any rational manner was 
stronger than the wish itself. A maximum of curiosity in 
each individual was combined with a minimum of collec- 
tive knowledge. Fancy was set in motion on every side 
with hardly a noticeable exception in order to span that 
gulf, and it is difficult to form an approximate conception 
of the amount of imagination at play. For the protective 
roof which civilization has built over man is at the same 
time a party-wall interposed between him and nature. 
The objects of natural worship were indefinitely extended. 
Forest and field, bush and fountain, were filled with them. 
But the needs of primitive man outgrew their rate of 
increase ; he could not but observe that his weal and woe, 
his success and misfortune, were not invariably connected 
with objects perceptible to sense. He observed a sudden 
scarcity where game had formerly been abundant ; he 
found himself all at once no match for the foe he had 
frequently routed ; he felt a paralysis creep through his 
limbs, or a mist obstruct his consciousness, and in none 
of these instances could he blame any visible being. 
He seized on any outward circumstance which gave a 
momentary direction to his bewildered thought as an 
infallible guide. He would assume a close and definite 
connection between occurrences that happened in fortuitous 
coincidence or succession. If an unknown animal, for 
instance, were suddenly to burst from the thicket at a 
time when a pestilence was raging, he would straightway 
worship it and implore its good graces as the author of 
the plague j and through all this uncertainty primitive 
man never ceased anxiously to look for the agents of his 
good luck and ill. His longing for help and salvation re- 
mained insatiable throughout. Presently he turned for aid 
to those who had watched over him in life, and addressed 
his prayers to the spirits of his departed kinsfolk, parents, 
and forefathers. The worship of ancestors was started, 
and with it went the supplication of spirits not confined 
to natural objects, but associated in thought with the 
ordinances and occurrences of life. Spirits were assumed 


with powers of protection and mischief. We are thus 
presented with three classes of objects of worship, 
overlapping one another at various points. They began 
to react on one another, and to pass into one another's 

The legendary figure of some remote ancestor, 
the forefather of a whole tribe or race, would be ranked 
on a footing of equality with the great natural fetishes. 
It might happen, indeed, that just as a nation or an 
illustrious tribe would regard and worship the sun or the 
sky as the author of its existence, so this legendary fore- 
father would be identified with c#ie of those fetishes. Nor 
need it arouse our surprise that objects of nature or art 
should come to be looked on as the homes of ancestral or 
other spirits, and as such should receive a form of worship 
and be ranked as secondary fetishes. They would owe 
these honours not so much to any palpable influence they 
exercised as to their strangeness, their unaccustomed shape 
or colour, or their accidental connection with the memory 
of some important event. Finally, it is obvious that spirits 
or demons, originally confined to no fixed abode, would 
be confused at times with a natural fetish through their 
similarity in name or qualities, and would at last be 
merged with it in a single being. It is wholly illegitimate 
to infer from occurrences of this more or less isolated 
character that any of the three great classes of objects of 
worship, natural fetishes or independent spirits, for example, 
is foreign to the original belief of the people, or of later and 
adventitious derivation. As well might one conclude from 
the proved worship of animals, as such, or from the deifi- 
cation of men, which has been frequently observed, and 
which still obtains through the great Hindoo civilization, 
that these are the sole or even the chief sources of religious 
belief. It is always difficult and often hopeless to attempt 
to follow the details of such a process of transformation, 
and to sift the nucleus of a religion from its gradual accre- 
tions. But the fact that such transformation took place, 
and that the course of religious development was thereby 
deeply affected, is a truth which may be stated without 


reserve. At this point, however, it will be well to 
return to the more modest path from which we have 

6. The gods of Greece assembled in Olympus round 
the throne of Zeus, hearkening the song of Apollo and 
the Muses, sipping nectar from golden goblets, involved in 
adventures of war and love we cannot but perceive how 
little they resemble the earliest and roughest products of 
religious imagination. They are severed by a yawning gulf 
which it would seem to be impossible to bridge over. Never- 
theless, the appearance is fallacious. The exact observer will 
remark a vast number of links and stepping-stones, till he will 
hardly venture to distinguish between the beginning of the 
one series of beings and the end of the other ; above all, be- 
tween the end of the natural fetish and the beginning of the 
anthropomorphic god. Comparative philology tells us that 
Zeus, the chief of the gods of Olympus, was originally no 
other than the sky itself. Hence he was said to rain, to 
hurl the lightnings, and to gather the clouds. Homer 
himself still entitles the Earth-goddess "broad-bosomed" 
or " broad-wayed " indifferently, and thus shifts, like the 
colours of the chameleon, between two quite contrary con- 
ceptions. When Earth is represented by an old theological 
poet as giving birth to high mountains and to the starry 
heaven that it may wholly encompass her, or when Earth 
as the bride of Heaven is represented as the mother of 
deep-eddying Ocean, and Ocean again with Tethys as 
engendering the rivers, we are plainly standing with both 
feet in the realm of the pure worship of nature. Presently, 
however, we are confronted with a different set of stories. 
Fair-flowing Xanthus is represented by Homer as subject 
to a wrathful mood ; Achilles fills his bed with dead men ; 
he is sorely pressed by the flames ignited by Hephaestus, 
smith of the gods ; he is in danger of defeat ; he stays his 
course in order to escape from the conflagration ; and he 
implores Hera the white-armed, the woman-like consort of 
the king of the gods, to help him to resist the savage 
onslaught of her son. In all these instances we are surely 
conscious of two fundamentally different kinds of religious 


imagination, of two strata, as it were, which a volcanic 
eruption has thrown into hopeless confusion. 

The following reply may be attempted to the question 
why Greek religion, like that of countless other peoples, 
has undergone this transformation. It was an intrinsic 
tendency of the associative faculty, which led to the per- 
sonification of nature, to lend more and more of a human 
character to the objects of worship. First came the con- 
nection in thought between movements or effects and 
the impulses of the human will. Next volition was con- 
nected with the whole range of human emotion; and, 
finally, the range of human emotion was associated in 
thought with the external form of man and the sum of the 
conditions of human life. This development took a slow 
course. It was delayed by man himself, who, on the 
confines of savagery, knowing no law but that of need, 
and harassed as he was by real and imaginary dangers, 
was not yet sufficiently in conceit with himself to form 
these supreme powers in his own mean and ignoble image. 
Still, the gradual beginnings of civilization tended to 
level the differences and to reduce the distance between 
the heights and the depths. No people, we may conjec- 
ture, ever yet came to regard the great powers of nature 
as savages living on roots and berries in a state of 
semi-starvation. But a tribe with an abundance of rich 
hunting-grounds might conceive a heavenly huntsman such 
as the Germanic Wotan, or, like the farmers of ancient 
India, would figure the god of heaven and his clouds as 
a shepherd with his flock. And this tendency was 
notably strengthened by the auspicious circumstances of 
external life, which awoke the desire for clearness, dis- 
tinctness, and a logical sequence of ideas. It is now the 
exception, and no longer the rule, to meet with such 
vague, indefinite, and contradictory conceptions as that of 
a sensitive stream, or of a river brought to birth by 
generation. We may not be able to assert conclusively 
whether the worship of ancestors or of fetishes was the 
earlier in time, but we can assert that, old as demonism 
may have been, it must have been extended by the division 


of labour and the growing diversity of life. Fresh demons 
had to be created to meet the multiplicity of human 
business and experience. But these independent spirits 
offer less opposition to the personifying faculty than objects 
of natural worship, and they presently formed the model 
on which the last-named were moulded. Demons, like 
souls, were conceived as entering human bodies. Our 
remarks about demonic possession will recur in this con- 
nection, and the process which nothing prevented and 
many conditions assisted was speedily adapted to the case 
of natural fetishes. Spirits and gods whose habitation is 
confined to external things, which they use as their instru- 
ments, now replace or accompany the volitional and con- 
scious objects of nature* Thus the god and the external 
thing are no longer completely identified. They merely 
stand in the relation of tenant and abode. The god 
becomes more independent of the destiny of the object 
he inhabits ; his sphere of activity is no longer confined to 
it, but he obtains an allowance of free action. 

The graceful feminine figures which the Greeks wor- 
shipped as nymphs afford an instructive example of this 
transformation. Homer's hymn to Aphrodite takes cog- 
nizance of dryads who share in the dance of the Immortals 
and sport with Hermes and the fauns under the shadows 
of the rocks. But the pines and the high-branching oaks 
they inhabit are something more than their mere dwelling- 
place* These beings are but half divine ; they are born, 
they grow, and they die together with the abodes they 
haunt. Other nymphs are exempt from that fate. They 
dwell in water-brooks, meadows, and groves, but they are 
numbered with the Immortals, and they are not missing 
from the great council of the gods when Zeus gathers 
them in his gleaming halls. We may draw the following 
conclusion. There was a time when the tree itself was 
personified and* worshipped. Next came a period when 
the spirit of its life was regarded as an independent being, 
separable from it, but closely bound up with its destiny* 
Finally, this last bond was severed as well ; the divine 
being was liberated, as it were, and hovered indestructibly 


over the perishable object of its care. This final and 
decisive step put polytheism in the place of fetishism. 
Traces of the era of fetishes linger about but a few of the 
great unique objects of nature, such as the earth, the stars, 
and the legendary Oceanus. And even in these instances 
fresh figures were created under the influence of the new 
thought to accompany the older deities, barely touched as 
they were by the finger of anthropomorphism. A further 
development may here be remarked. These natural spirits, 
released from their external objects, were set an appointed 
task just as certain independent deities presided over whole 
categories of occupation. They were appointed to wood 
or garden, to the fountain, the wind, and so forth, and 
became what has appropriately been termed " class-gods." 
This transformation was assisted, apart from the influence 
of demonisra, by the progressive perception of the intrinsic 
likeness in whole series of beings. Man's generalizing 
powers found here their earliest satisfaction, and his artistic 
and inventive faculties were provided with inexhaustible 
material in the contemplation of the free action of the 

The Greeks were furnished in a pre-eminent degree 
with the conditions requisite for the progress of personifi- 
cation, and for the idealization of the divine powers which 
depended on it. The demand for clearness and distinct- 
ness may have been a birthright of the Greeks ; it was 
obviously strengthened by the bright air and brilliant sky 
enjoyed through the greater part of Hellas, by the sharp 
outline of its hills, by its wide and yet circumscribed 
horizon. The Greek sense of beauty was constantly fed 
on landscapes combining in the smallest compass all the 
loveliest elements of nature. Green pastures and snowy 
peaks, dusky pine-woods and smiling meadows, wide 
prospects over land and sea, fascinated the eye at every 
turn. And the inventive spirit which was later to display 
itself in the rich and teeming inheritance of Greek poetry 
and art must surely have seized on the first material 
at its disposal, and therein have spent the powers which 
were denied expression elsewhere. 


It is difficult to follow the course of this evolution in 
detail, and our difficulty is enhanced by the character of 
the literary monuments that have reached us. It was 
a cherished belief of former generations that Homer's 
poems were produced in the infancy of Greece. Schlie- 
mann's spade has destroyed this illusion. A notable 
degree of material civilization clearly distinguished the 
eastern portions of Greece the islands, and the shore 
of Asia Minor soon after 1500 B.C. The conditions 
of human life depicted by the Homeric poems are the 
result of a comparatively long development contami- 
nated by Egypt and the East. When we recall the 
splendid banqueting-halls, with their plates of beaten 
metals, their blue glazed friezes on a gleaming alabaster 
ground, their ceilings artistically carved, and their drinking- 
cups of embossed gold, we look in vain for traces of 
primitive man in the princes and nobles whose Round 
Table was the theme of the Homeric poems. Their 
passions, it is true, were still uncontrolled. Otherwise the 
insatiable wrath of Achilles or Meleager would never have 
become a favourite subject for poetic description. We 
recall the period in which the Niebelungenlied was com- 
posed, when the original and untamed force of passionate 
sensibility fell on an era of foreign manners and imported 
refinement of taste. But we find no trace in these heroes of 
the timidity and awe with which the almighty forces of nature 
were regarded by primitive man. The gods were fashioned 
by the nobles after the pattern of their own existence, as 
they acquired more and more self-esteem, more and more 
security, in the stress of life. Olympus became a mirror 
of heroic experience, and its gorgeous and frequently 
tumultuous features were faithfully reproduced, Gods and 
men approached each other with a familiarity never since 
repeated. Men wore no little of divine dignity ; the gods 
took no mean share of human weakness. The virtues 
ascribed to the gods were the virtues dearest to those 
warriors qualities of valour and pride, and steadfastness 
in friendship and hate. Gods, like men, were affected by 
strong individual motives ; the obligation of duty was 


almost always a matter of personal loyalty, and in the 
Iliad at least they but rarely appear as the champions of 
abstract justice. To their worshippers who lavished 
precious gifts on them, to the cities that dedicated 
splendid temples to them, to the tribes and races which 
traditionally enjoyed their favour, they lent their faithful 
protection with a loyalty as resolute as it was untiring. 
They were but little restrained by any scruples of 
morality ; nay, their special favourites were endowed by 
them with talents for perjury and theft. They seldom 
paused to consider the rights or wrongs of the matter to 
which they devoted their assistance, else how could some 
of the gods have been found on the side of the Greeks, 
while others with equal interest and trouble supported the 
Trojan cause ? How, again, could Poseidon in the 
Odyssey have persecuted patient Ulysses with inex- 
haustible hate, while Athene proved herself in every 
danger his trusty counsellor and shield ? Their obedience 
was solely due to the god of heaven, chief of the gods, 
and more often than not they obeyed him with reluctance, 
and used every artifice of deceit and guile to evade the 
obligation of his command. Moreover, the heavenly over- 
lord resembled his earthly prototype in that his power 
did not rest on the immovable foundation of law. He 
found himself frequently obliged to extort the fulfilment 
of his orders by the employment of threats, and even by 
violent maltreatment. There was a single peremptory 
exception to the chaos induced by the acts and passions 
of the Immortals. Moira, or Fate, was supreme over gods 
and men alike, and in her worship we recognize the faint 
and earliest perception of the operation of law throughout 
the range of experience. Thus the oldest monuments of 
the Greek intellect that have reached us show us the 
gods in as humaa a form as is compatible with reverent 
worship, and instances indeed could be found where that 
last limit was transgressed. Take, for example, the love- 
story of Ares and Aphrodite ; it stirred the Phaeacians 
to ribald mirth, and it evinces a worldliness in religious 
conception which, like the exclusive cult of beauty of the 


Cinquecento, could hardly have spread over wide classes 
of the population without seriously affecting the heart of 
religious belief. The majesty of the ancient Greek religion 
is not to be found in the confines of the courtly epic, 
where the joys of the world and the flesh and the frank 
deliciousness of life disperse the gloomier aspects of 
belief, and clothe them, so to speak, with their brilliance. 
The exceptional occurrences that seem to contradict this 
view will be found to be its clearest illustration. 

Homeric man believed himself to be constantly and 
universally surrounded by gods and dependent on them. 
He attributed his good luck and ill, his successful spear- 
thrust or his enemy's escape, to the friendship or hostility 
of a demon. Every cunning plan, every sound device, 
was credited to divine inspiration, and every act of in- 
fatuated blindness was ascribed to the same cause. It was 
the aim of all his endeavours to win the favour of the 
Immortals and to avert their wrath. But despite this de- 
pendence, and despite the occurrence, in the Iliad especially, 
with its shifting battle-scenes, of situations fraught with 
dire peril, it is to be noted that man himself, the costliest 
of human possessions, is never offered as a sacrifice to the 
gods. The religion of the Greeks, like that of most other 
peoples, was familiar with human sacrifices ; but though it 
survives till the full light of historic times, it is completely 
missing from the picture of civilization displayed by the 
Homeric poems. Or rather, the abominable custom is 
mentioned therein on one single occasion, as the exception 
which proves the rule. At the splendid obsequies devised 
by Achilles in honour of Patroclus, the well-beloved, we 
are told that, besides innumerable sheep and oxen, besides 
four horses and two favourite hounds, twelve Trojan youths 
were first slaughtered and then burnt with the body 
of his dead friend. This complete consumption of the 
offering by fire is proved by more recent ritual evidence 
to have been the ceremony in vogue among worshippers of 
the infernal deities. The blood of the slaughtered beasts and 
men is first suffered to trickle over the corpse, and the soul 
is supposed to be present and to be refreshed and honoured 


by the gifts It receives. Achilles performs by this act a 
solemn obligation to the dead, and narrates it to the soul, 
when it appears to him by night, and again at the 
funeral itself. But, strangely enough, the description of 
this revolting deed has none of that sensuous breadth and 
detail which we correctly call the epic style, and find so 
characteristic of Homer. Rather the poet 9 glides, as it 
were, with deliberate haste over the horrible story. He 
and his audience seem to shrink from it ; it is the legacy 
of a world of thought and feeling from which the vitality 
has departed, and this impression Is strengthened by other 
and kindred observations. Except for this single instance, 
hardly any trace whatsoever is found in the Homeric 
poems of the whole series of rites connected with and 
dependent on the belief in the protracted existence of 
powerful beings rising with spectral influence from the 
grave, and constantly demanding fresh tokens of propitia- 
tion. There are no sacrifices to the dead, whether bloody 
or bloodless, there is no purification for homicide, no 
worship of souls or ancestors. The souls, it is true, survive 
the bodies, but they are well-nigh exclusively confined to 
the far infernal realms of death, where they wander as 
" powerless heads," vagrant shadows, and bloodless ghosts, 
of no efficacy and of little account. It was quite different 
in later times, and, as we learn from trustworthy discoveries 
and equally trustworthy conclusions, in earlier times too. 
We may appropriately dwell on this point, which is of 
great importance to the history of the belief in souls and 
to religious history in general. 

7. The sacrifice of prisoners or slaves is a funeral 
custom of remote antiquity, and one which is widely 
spread in our own times. The Scythians, when they 
buried their king, used to strangle one of his concubines 
and five of his slaves the cook, the cup-bearer, the 
chamberlain, the groom, and the doorkeeper and these, 
together with his favourite horses, and with a quantity of 
costly vessels, of golden goblets and so forth, would be 
committed to the royal grave. After the lapse of a year, 
fifty more chosen slaves were strangled, set upon as many 


slaughtered horses, and stationed round the tomb like a 
guard of honour. 

Many pages and chapters might be filled with the 
enumeration of similar customs, from which the Hindoo 
suttee is also derived. Naturally they show a long course of 
gradations, varying from the savage and barbarous to the 
tender and refined. Human sacrifices were followed by 
animal sacrifices, and these in their turn by drink sacrifices 
and other bloodless offerings. -^Eschylus and Sophocles 
represent Agamemnon's tomb in Mycenae as the recipient 
of libations of milk, locks of hair, and garlands of flowers. 
But newly discovered tombs of the kings in that city, 
dating from hoary antiquity, show traces of sacrificial 
offerings of a far more substantial kind. Bones of animals, 
and human remains too, were found there, besides innu- 
merable most costly weapons, drinking-cups, and other 
vessels. Taking these objects in connection with the 
altars discovered in the vaulted tomb at Orchomenus in 
Bceotia, we may infer that the souls of the dead enjoyed 
adoration and worship in the proper sense of the word. 
The cult of ancestors and souls has been in almost universal 
vogue. It is still as widely spread among the most debased 
savages in all regions of the earth as among the highly 
civilized Chinese, in whose state-religion it plays the most 
important part. It takes precedence, too, in the beliefs ot 
nations of Aryan descent. The Romans observed it no less 
than the Greeks, and the "Manes" of ancient Rome were 
the " pitaras " of the Hindoos. The extinction of a family at 
Athens was regarded as ominous, inasmuch as its ancestors 
would be deprived of the honours that were due to them. 
The whole population of Greece, and the communities of 
which it was composed in a series, as it were, of concentric 
circles, addressed their prayers to real or imaginary fore- 
fathers. And so imperious was this need that professional 
brotherhoods or guilds would invent a common ancestor, 
should they otherwise not possess one. The custom was 
bound up with the origins of state and society, which were 
originally ranked as merely extended family groups. But 
our immediate interest is confined to the deepest root of 


this custom the belief in the protracted existence of the 
soul as a powerful being with enduring influence on the 
success and failure of its living descendants. We have 
already discussed the source of this belief, and we shall 
later be occupied with the changes that it underwent. At 
present we have to dispel a misunderstanding which might 
darken our historical insight. 

The souls depicted by Homer have dwindled to pale 
and ineffectual shadows. Their worship, and the customs 
that arise from it, are practically obsolete in his poems, but 
it would be erroneous to conclude from these facts that the 
evidence from comparative ethnology should be neglected, 
or that the oldest form of this part of the Greek religion 
is preserved in epic poetry. The discoveries dating from 
the period of civilization which is now called the Mycensean 
have shattered the last foundation of every possible doubt. 
The causes that induced this change in religious ideas can 
only be arrived at by conjecture. It plainly depended, not 
merely on temporal, but also on local conditions, and at 
first, at least, it was probably confined to certain classes of 
the population. At the period of which we are speaking 
the custom of burning the dead body prevailed, and the 
consequent belief obtained, and was clearly expressed by 
Homer, that the consuming flames finally severed body 
from soul, and consigned the soul to the realm of shadows. 
In connection with the development of Greek religion, 
considerable influence has been attached to this custom 
and its results. Of hardly secondary account may be 
reckoned the local separation of colonists from their 
ancestral tombs, and from the seats of worship appertain- 
ing to them in the mother-country. But of greater 
importance than all was the joy in life and the world, so 
repellent to melancholy and gloom, which pervades the 
Homeric poems. It shrank from the sinister and the 
spectral with the same invincible optimism that banished 
the ugly and the grotesque from its purview. Nor was 
it only the shades of the dead that had to recede into 
the background. Spectral godheads such as Hecate, 
horrible spirits such as the Titans witft their hundred arms 

VOl, I, p 


and fifty heads, coarse and revolting myths such as that 
of the emasculation of Uranus, were similarly compelled 
to give way to the instinct of joy ; and monsters of the 
type of the round-eyed Cyclops were treated in a more 
playful humour. Two alternative inferences present them- 
selves. We may either regard the gradual growth of the 
sense of beauty and the rise in the standard of life 
dependent on the progress of material civilization as the 
chief factor of development ; or we may ascribe to the 
people who invented philosophy and natural science the 
possession, even in those early times, of the elements of 
rationalistic enlightenment. In other words, is the change in 
the soul-idea which confronts us in Homer to be attributed 
in the first instance to the lightness or to the brightness 
of the Ionian genius ? This question does not yet admit 
of a definite answer. We owe the possibility of its dis- 
cussion to the brilliant intellectual and analytical powers 
of a contemporary student in these fields, 

8. The personification of Nature must, then, primarily 
be thanked for the inexhaustible material it supplied to 
the play, first of imagination and next of imagination 
heightened to art. But it must further be recognized as 
having been the earliest to satisfy the curiosity of man, 
and his craving for light in the deep darkness in the 
midst of which we live and breathe. The "why" and 
"wherefore" of sensible phenomena are questions that 
cannot be avoided, and the spontaneous presumption that 
everything which happens is due to the impulse of voli- 
tional beings a presumption springing from the unlimited 
dominion of the association of ideas affords, it must be 
admitted, a sort of answer in itself. It is a kind of philo- 
sophy of nature, capable of infinite extension in proportion 
to the increase of the number of phenomena observed, and 
to the more and more clearly defined shapes of the powers 
of nature, regarded as living beings. Primitive man is not 
merely a poet, believing in the truth of his inventions ; he 
is, In his way, a kind of investigator as well. The mass of 
answers which he gives to the questions continually pressing 
on him is gradually composed to an all-embracing weft, 


and the threads thereof are myths. As evidence of this, 
we may instance the popular legends of all times and 
countries with their remarkable points of likeness and their 
no less striking points of difference. The two greatest 
heavenly bodies figure in almost every nation as a related 
pair, whether in the relation of husband and wife or of 
sister and brother. Numberless myths represent the phases 
of the moon as the wandering of the lunar goddess, and 
the occasional eclipses of sun and moon as the consequences, 
partly of domestic strife, partly of the hostile attacks of 
dragons and monsters. The Semite, for example, explained 
the weakness of the sun in winter by the story of Samson's 
the sun-god's bewitchment by the seductive goddess of 
the night, who robbed him of his shining hair ; as soon as 
his long locks, the sunbeams, in which his strength resided, 
were cut off, it was an easy task to blind him. The 
ancient Indian regarded the clouds as cows as soon as 
they were milked the fruitful rain poured down ; if the 
quickening moisture were long delayed, the drought was 
ascribed to evil spirits who had stolen the herds and 
hidden them in rocky caves, and Indra, the god of heaven, 
had to descend on the storm-wind to free them from 
their bondage, and rescue them from the robbers. The 
dreadful spectacle afforded to the gaze of primitive man 
by a mountain emitting flames would forthwith seem to 
him the work of a demon dwelling in the bowels of the 
earth. Many tribes would content themselves with this 
explanation, but one or another would presently ask why 
it was that so mighty a spirit should be confined in infernal 
darkness. The answer would suggest itself spontaneously, 
that he had been vanquished in conflict with a yet more 
powerful being. Thus Typhon and Enceladus were looked 
on by the Greeks as the vanquished opponents of the great 
god of heaven, bearing the heavy penalty of their crime. 
Or take the instance of the earth, from whose womb came 
forth a constant procession of fruits. How natural it was 
to represent her as a woman impregnated by the heaven 
above her, who sent down his life-giving rain. This world- 
wide myth has been turned to various forms. The Maoris 


and Chinese, the Phoenicians and Greeks, would ask why 
husband and wife were kept so far apart from each other, 
instead of dwelling in the intimate relations of a conjugal 
pair. The inhabitants of New Zealand replied with the 
story that the offspring of Rang! (heaven) and Papa (earth) 
had no room to live as long as their parents were united. 
So at last they made up their minds to relieve themselves 
from the pressure and the darkness, and one of them the 
mighty god and father of the forests succeeded, after 
many vain attempts on the part of his brethren, in sunder- 
ing their parents by force. But the love of heaven and 
earth survived their separation. Passionate sighs, which 
men call mist, still rise to heaven from the breast of mother- 
earth, and tears still trickle from the eyes of the sad god 
of heaven, and are called by men drops of dew. This 
ingenious and highly poetical myth of the Maoris gives 
the key to a similar but far coarser legend which obtained 
in Greece, and of which merely fragments have come down 
to us. Hesiod tells us that the earth was cramped and 
oppressed by her teeming burden of children, of which 
heaven was the father. But heaven, adds the poet, would 
not suffer them to come to birth, but thrust them back 
in their mothers womb. Panting from her labours, she 
devises a cunning scheme, and confides its execution to 
one of her sons. Cronos whets his sickle and mutilates 
Uranus his father, so that he is debarred from further pro- 
creation, and Gaia is released thenceforward from her 
husband's embraces, and is enabled, we may add, to find 
room for the offspring with whom she is teeming. 

We may mark at this point the following conclusion* 
The process of personification was not confined to mere 
objects, but was extended to forces, states, and qualities. 
Night, darkness, death, sleep, love, appetite, infatuation, 
were all looked on by the Greeks as individual beings 
more or less successfully personified* Some are completely- 
embodied, others stand out from the background of their 
content as imperfectly as a bas-relief. The relations 
existing between these forces or states are explained by 
s from Juiman or apimal }ife, l^eness, fo^ 


instance, figures as relationship, death and sleep are twin 
brothers ; consecution figures as generation, so that day 
is the offspring of night, or night of day indifferently. All 
groups of like nature appear as tribes, kindred, or families, 
and traces of this process of thought are to be found in 
our language to this day. Finally, the habit of explaining 
an enduring condition or the recurring incidents of the 
world by mythical fictions led to the attempt to solve the 
great riddles of human life and fate in a similar manner. 
The Greek in his dark hour of pessimism would ask why 
the evils of life were so much in excess of its blessings, 
and the question immediately suggested a second one 
Who and what brought evil in the world ? And his answer 
mainly resembles that of the modern Frenchman, the sum 
of whose researches into the source of innumerable trans- 
gressions was contained in the words " cherchez la femme." 
But the ancient Greek cast his indictment of the weaker 
and fairer sex in the form of a single charge. He relates 
that Zeus, with the help of the rest of the gods, in order 
to punish Prometheus for his theft of fire and the conse- 
quent arrogance of mankind, created a woman adorned 
with all the graces as the mother of the female race, and 
sent her down to the earth. At another time the Greek, 
still groping for enlightenment on this subject, accused 
curiosity or the thirst for knowledge as the root of all evil. 
If the gods, he said, had endowed us with every blessing, 
and had locked up all evils in a box, and had straightly 
warned us not to open it, human and chiefly woman's 
curiosity would have set at nought the divine prohibition. 
Both myths are merged in one: Pandora, the woman, as 
her name implies, adorned with every seductive gift, is 
the woman, stung by curiosity, who lifts the lid of the 
fateful box and lets its perilous contents escape. Once 
more we are astounded at the similarity of mythical 
invention obtaining among the most diverse peoples, and 
one almost involuntarily recalls the allied Hebraic story 
of Eve the mother of all life and the ominous conse- 
quences of her sinful curiosity. 

9. The multiplicity of myths and the crowd of deities 


must at last have proved a weariness and a stumbling- 
block to the orthodox Greek, Legends clustered like 
weeds in a pathless and primeval forest, obstructed by 
ever-fresh undergrowth. The thinning axe was wanted, 
and a hand was presently found to wield it with thew 
and sinew. A peasant's vigour and a peasant's shrewd- 
ness accomplished the arduous task, and we reach in 
him the earliest didactic poet of the Occident, Hesiod 
of Ascra, in Bceotia, flourished in the eighth century B.C. 
He sprang from a soil where the air was less bright 
than in the rest of Greece, and man's heart was less light 
in his breast. His intellect was clear but clumsy ; he 
was versed in the management of house and field, and 
was not a stranger to lawsuits. His imaginative 
powers were of comparatively restricted range, and his 
disposition was yet more unyielding, A Roman among 
Greeks, the author of " Works and Days " was distinguished 
by sober sensibilities, by a strict love of order, and by 
the parsimonious thrift of a good business man trained 
in the manufacture of smooth account-books, averse from 
any hint of contradiction, and shy of all superfluity. 
It is in this spirit, so to speak, that he took an inventory 
of Olympus, fitting each of the Immortals in the frame- 
work of his system by the genealogical clamps. He 
pruned the luxuriance of epic poetry, reviving the im- 
memorial but dimly understood traditions extant among 
the lower orders of Greece without respect to their claims 
to beauty. Thus his theogony comprised a complete and 
comprehensive picture, with but rare gleams of true 
poetry and hardly a breath of the genuine joy of life. 
The names of Homer and Hesiod were coupled in remote 
antiquity as the twin authors of Greek religion* But they 
stand, in point of fact, in strong contrast. The unchecked 
imagination of Ionian poets, which made light of the 
contradictions and diversities of legend, differed as widely 
from the home-keeping, methodical wisdom of the Boeotian 
peasant as the brilliant insouciance of their noble audience 
from the gloomy spirit of the meek hinds and farmers 
for whom Hesiod's poems were composed. 


The " Theogony " is at once a cosmogony ; the " Origin 
of the Gods " included the origin of the world. We are 
chiefly concerned with the last named of these pairs, and 
may let the poet speak for himself. At the beginning, he 
tells us, there was Chaos: then come Gaia, the broad- 
bosomed earth, and next, Eros, loveliest of the gods, who 
compels the senses of mortals and immortals alike, and 
melts the strength of their limbs. Chaos engendered 
Darkness and Black Night, and Air and Day ^Ether and 
Hemera sprang from their union. Gaia first created 
of her own accord the starry heaven, the high mountains, 
and Pontus, the sea ; then, as the bride of Uranus, she 
brought forth Oceanus, the stream that encompasses the 
earth, and a long series of children, some of them mighty 
monsters, and others of an almost allegorical description, 
besides the gods of the lightning called Cyclopes, and 
Tethys, the great goddess of the sea. From the marriage 
of Ocean and Tethys sprang fountains and the streams. 
The sun-god, the moon-goddess, and the Dawn were 
born to two other children of Heaven and Earth. Dawn 
is united to her cousin Astrseus, god of the stars, and the 
Winds, the Morning-star, and the rest of the luminaries 
were born of that marriage. 

Part of this exposition is so puerile in its simplicity, 
that hardly a word of comment is required. " The greater 
is the author of the less : " hence the mountains were 
born of the Earth; mighty Oceanus and the smaller 
streams and rivers stood in the relation of father and 
sons ; the little Morning-star was the son of the wide- 
spreading Dawn, and the rest of the stars were clearly 
to be set down as his brothers. It is less obvious 
why the Day should have sprung from the Night, for the 
opposite theory would have been equally admissible, and 
an old Indian hymn-writer actually poses the question 
whether Day or Night was created first. Still, Hesiod's 
opinion may perhaps be called the more natural. Darkness 
appears to us as a permanent state requiring no explana- 
tion ; light, at each manifestation, is due to a special 
event, whether it be the rise of the sun, the lightning of 


the storm-cloud, or the ignition of a flame by human 
hand. So far, then, we have merely had to deal with the 
earliest reflections of thoughtful and bewildered man. 
These tell their own story, but a more attentive examina- 
tion is required when we come to the most important 
part of Hesiod's work, where he discusses the origin of the 

The brief and arid character of this exposition is the 
first point that we notice, and it arouses our astonish- 
ment The stage-bell rings, as it were, and Chaos, 
Gaia, and Eros appear as the curtain rises. No hint is 
vouchsafed as to the reason of their appearance. A bare 
" but then " connects the origin of Earth with the origin 
of Chaos. Not a single syllable of explanation is given 
of the When and How of this process, whether Earth was 
born of Chaos or not, and what were the aids to birth ; and 
the same unbroken silence is preserved on the promotion 
of the Love-god to the prominent part which he fills. Of 
course one may say, the principle of love or generation 
must have entered the world before any procreation 
could take place. But why should the didactic poet drop 
it without a word, why should he never refer to that 
function of Eros at all, and why should he rather disguise 
it, as we plainly perceive to be the fact ? Various epithets 
are here predicated of the Love-god, and in a later passage 
he is given a place next to Himeros craving in the 
train of Aphrodite. But none of these allusions recalls in 
the remotest degree the mighty, vitalizing creative Being 
who alone is appropriate in this connection, and whom we 
shall meet later on in other cosmogonic experiments, where 
the origin and function of Eros come to adequate ex- 
pression. One thing is as clear as noonday* A wide gulf 
is fixed between the summary and superficial methods of 
Hesiod's inquiry into origins and the devotion of those 
who applied the whole force of their immature philosophy 
to the solution of the great enigma. Hesiod's system is 
a mere husk of thought which must once have been filled 
with life. It has survived the loss of its contents, just as 
the shell survives the shell-fish. We seem to be gazing 


at a kortus siccus of conceptions, the growth and develop- 
ment of which we are no longer able to watch. Inference 
has to take the place of direct observation, and a start 
must be made at the terms the poet used, presumably with 
but partial comprehension. These terms will help us to 
construct the process of thought of which they are the dead 
deposit. We shall be assisted herein by the consideration 
of kindred phenomena, not merely in Greece, but in other 
countries as well. We have already briefly described the 
nature of Eros, and may now proceed to discuss the mean- 
ing of Chaos. 

Chaos resembles empty space as closely as the inexact 
thought of primitive man approximates to the speculative 
conceptions of advanced philosophers. Primitive man 
endeavours to imagine the primordial condition of things, 
in all its striking contrast to the world as he knows it. 
The earth, and all that is therein, and the dome of the 
sky were not extant. All that remained was a something 
stretching from the topmost heights to the uttermost 
depths, and continuing immeasurably on either side the 
hollow emptiness interposed between the Heaven and the 
Earth. The Babylonians called it apsu, " the abyss," or 
tiamat, " the deep." The Scandinavians knew it as ginmmga 
gap, "the yawning gap/' a term of which the first word 
belongs to the same root as the Greek Chaos. This 
gaping void, this abysmal deep, was conceived as obscure 
and dark simply because in accordance with the principles 
of this system none of the sources of light had as yet 
been put in action. For the same reason, the observer 
confined his imagination to the depths rather than the 
heights of Chaos, height and light being hardly dis- 
tinguishable in his mind. Chaos filled the whole space 
known to or even suspected by primitive man. Earth and 
her complement the dome of heaven with its luminaries 
sufficed for his knowledge and his thought ; even his 
vague and aspiring curiosity was content to flutter in those 
limits. His intellect stopped short at the idea of the 
distance between heaven and earth stretching into the 
infinite. The two other dimensions of space troubled him 


scarcely at all, and whether he believed in their finite or 
infinite extension it would be equally futile to inquire. 

Thus Hesiod's inventory included not merely the 
simple popular legends but also the oldest attempts at 
speculation. These last, indeed, are presented in so rough 
and incomplete a guise that his sparse allusions can only 
acquaint us with the existence of such attempts at his 
time, and with their barest and most general outline. We 
shall have to trust to later accounts to discover their 
contents more accurately, though our knowledge at the 
best can only be approximate. Then, too, we shall have 
occasion to examine the standard of thought to which 
such experiments belong. Meantime, our survey of Hcsiod 
would be incomplete without a reference to one side of 
his scheme which also bears a more speculative character. 
Many of the beings he presents to us, and interweaves in 
his genealogies, show little or nothing of the vivid per- 
sonification which marks the figures of simple popular 
belief. " Lying Speeches," for instances, would hardly 
impress any one at first sight as individual personages. 
Yet they are found with " Toilsome Labour," " Tearful 
Pains/' *' Battles/* and " Carnage " in the enumeration of 
the offspring of Eris, or Strife. The experience is repeated 
in the instance of the children of Ni^ht These do not 
merely include mythical figures of a comparatively life-like 
kind, such as Eris herself, Sleep, Death, the Moinu, or 
goddesses of Fate, and so forth, but also blank, spectral 
personifications, such as "Deceit" and "Ruinous Old 
Age." " Deceit's " title to that place would appear to rest 
on its habit of avoiding the light ; Old Age is promoted 
to it on no other ground than that every untoward and 
unwelcome event seems appropriate to the region of dark- 
ness and gloom, very much in the same way as we our- 
selves speak of "gloomy thoughts" and * black cares." 
No one can exactly determine Hesiod's debt to his pre- 
decessors either here or elsewhere ; but it is fair to believe 
that in such purely speculative excursions he was trusting 
to his own imagination. 

( 43 ) 



BEFORE speculation could flourish, a considerable mass of 
detailed knowledge had to be collected. In this respect 
the Greeks were exceptionally lucky in their inheritance. 
The cause of Greek science was unconsciously served by 
the ancient Chaldaeans and Egyptians. The Chaldeans 
laid the foundations of astronomy, when they computed 
.the empiric laws of eclipses in their observation of the 
courses of the stars in the crystal sky of Mesopotamia. The 
Egyptians invented an art which comprised the elements 
of geometry, when they measured the ploughland, alter- 
nately wasted and fertilized by the Nile, in order to 
determine the amount of taxes it should yield. The 
Greeks were ever the favourites of fortune, and here again 
must be recorded what is perhaps the chief instance of,- 
their good luck. So far as the evidence of history extends, 
an organized caste of priests and scholars, combining the 
necessary leisure with the equally necessary continuity of 
tradition, was at all times indispensable to the beginnings 
of scientific research. But its beginning and its end in 
such cases were only too likely to coincide, for when 
scientific doctrines are mixed up with religious tenets, the 
same lifeless dogmatism will commonly benumb them both. 
The child's indispensable leading-strings become an in- 
tolerable chain when the child has grown to manhood. 
Thus we may account it a double blessing for the free 
progress of thought among the Greeks that their pre- 
decessors in civilization possessed an organized priest- 
hood, and that they themselves lacked it The pioneers 

>1 t tiRKKK '/Y//A7v'A'AV>'. 

of human knowledge had all the advantages without any 
of the disadvantages derived from the existence of a 
learned priesthood in their midst. Supported on the 
shoulders of Kjjypt and Babylon, the genius of (mvce 
could take wing without check or restraint, and amid 
venture on a flight that was to lead it to the hijjht'St 
attainable goals. The relation between the (3 reeks and 
their forebears in the work of civilization, between the 
authors of true generalising science and the purveyors 
and preparers of the necessary raw material recalls 
Goethe's picture of himself us a citizen of the world, 
between n prophet on the ri^ht hum! and a prophet tin 
the left 

Two series of effects are to be traced from the extension 
of natural science and of human dominion over nature 
acquired by the Greeks in these centuries. Take the 
religious sphere first The conception of the universe as 
u playground of innumerable capricious and counteracting 
manifestations of Will was more and more undermined. 
The subordination of the many separate ddtieH to the 
supreme will of a single; arbiter of destiny was here the 
expression of the steady growth of man's insight into 
the regularity of natural phenomena. Polytheism im'Iineil 
more and more to monotheism, and we shall later have to 
deal with the gradual phases uf this transformation. But 
the better knowledge and closer observation of tlu? pro- 
cesses of nature led at the same time to npeculatium; on 
the constitution of material factors ; the eye of the student 
of nature was no longer exclusively occupied with the 
world of gtnls, spirit*, and demons. Cosmogony began to 
free itself from theogony, and the problem of matter 
emerged into the foreground of men'* thought**, They 
began to wonder if matter existed in as many separate 
kinds as the difference of material thing* suggested to 
their senses, or 5f> on the contrary, it wurc possible that 
this endless variety could be reduced to st smaller, pcrh&pa 
a very small, number, if not to unity itself. They observed 
that the plant*, which depend for their nourishment on 
earth, air, and water, servo animals for nourishment in 


their turn ; they observed that animal excretions helped 
to nourish the plants, and that both are finally resolved 
into earth, air, and water once more. So they would ask 
if these beings in their steady circular course were really 
of alien nature, or if they were not rather mere variations 
of originally homogeneous substances nay, it might be oi 
a single substance. The world, they would go on to con- 
jecture, instead of springing from chaos, might have come 
from some such single substance and might return to it 
again, and they would look for a general rule by which 
to characterize the series of the variations of form thai 
they observed. Such were the questions which began tc 
occupy the mind of the more profound thinkers familial 
with the beginnings of positive science. Even the 
Homeric poems are not absolutely free from traces o: 
similar speculation. Take the passages, for instance 
where earth and water are mentioned as the elements 
into which the human body is dissolved ; or, better still 
take the references to Oceanus as the source of al 
things, and to the derivation of all the gods from the 
marriage of Oceanus with Tethys, goddess of the seas. Th< 
last strains of immemorial fetishism and the overture o 
positive philosophy are combined in those passages. Now 
however, a stricter method supervenes. The veil o 
mythology was rent and the ideas were pressed will 
ruthless consistency to their utmost logical content. Tw< 
of the corner-stones of modern chemistry the exist 
once of elements, and the indestructibility of matter no\ 
come into sight: each is important in itself, and thei 
importance is doubled in combination. A twofold serie 
of considerations led to the belief in the indestructibilit; 
of matter. Matter was seen to emerge unhurt from th 
manifold phases of the course of organic life, and it wa 
by no means a long step to the conjecture that matte 
could not be destroyed, and that its annihilation was neve 
more than apparent. Moreover, a keener observatio 
refuted the theory of absolute destruction, in the sense c 
a reduction to nothing, in instances which afforded th 
Wrongest ^sumption in its favour, When boiling waU 

dried up, or when solid bodies wore burnt, there was seen 
to remain a residue of steam, smoke, or ashes, Here, then, 
we find that genius anticipated science. The full truth of 
these doctrines was not finally established till the ;;tvat 
era of chemistry in the eighteenth century, led by Lavnisier 
with the balance in his hand. At another point the 
"physiologists" of Ionia actually outstripped the results of 
modern knowledge The bold flight, of their imagination 
did not stop at the assumption of a plurality of indestruc- 
tible elements; it never rested till it reached the concep- 
tion of a single fundamental or primordial matter as the 
source of material diversity. Here it may almost be siid 
that inexperience was the mother of wisdom. The impulse 
to simplification, when it hud onro been aroused, was li!vt 
a stone set in motion which mils continuously till it is 
checked by an obstacle. It advanced from infinity to 
plurality, from plurality to unity ; no inconvenient farts 
could place impediments in its path* nor could call a 
peremptory halt Thus the impetuous uninstructcd srnse 
of that early epoch attained an intuition which i* jtK 
hcgitminK to dawn through countless doubts and difficulties 
on our own mature and enlightened knowledge. Once 
more the belief i* breaking on the most illustrious of 
modern philosophers that the seventy-odd elements 
reckoned by chemistry to-day are not the ultimate destina- 
tion in the journey of that science, but an* merely ,t sta^e 
in its progress towards the final decomposition of matter, 

3. Thales of Mik'tiw is regarded un the forefather of 4 this 
whole line nf philosophers. This remarkable man ww the 
product of u mixture of races ; Greek, Curian, am! Hum!* 
cian blood flowed in his veins, He was accordingly a tyjie 
of the peculiar many-sidedness of Ionian descent, ami his 
image flashes on our eyes In the most varied colours of 
tradition* Now he appears as the embodiment of the remote 
and contemplative &${?, who tumbles headlong in the well 
while K<i?.ititf at the stars uf heaven ; now he i represented 
as* turning his knowledge to his private advantage ; and in 
a third version we see him offering Im fellow-coiintrymen, 
the Ionian^ of;t Mimtr, cum^els of cxtraorUinary politkiU 


acumen directed to the creation of a federal state a 
conception absolutely novel to the Greeks of that age. 
Indisputably he combined the roles of merchant, states- 
man, engineer, mathematician, and astronomer. He owed 
his rich intellectual training to travel in distant parts. He 
had been as far as Egypt, where he devoted himself, among 
other problems, to that of the rise of the Nile. He was the 
first to raise the clumsy methods of land-surveying current 
among the Egyptians, and directed merely to the require- 
ments of single cases, into a deductive science of geometry 
resting on general principles, and his name is still given 
to one of the most elementary geometrical demonstrations, 
We may readily credit the tradition that Thales supplied 
his Egyptian masters with the method they had sought in 
vain of computing the height of the towering pyramids which 
arc the wonders of their home. He pointed out to them 
that at the time of day when a man's shadow or that of 
any other object presenting no difficulty to mensuration 
is exactly equal to the size of the original, then, too, the 
shadow of the pyramid can neither be longer nor shorter 
than its actual height He had probably familiarized 
himself in Sardis with the elements of Babylonian wisdom, 
and he borrowed from it the law of the periodicity of 
eclipses, which enabled him to foretell the total eclipse of 
the sun on May 28, 585 B.C., to the utmost astonishment 
of his fellow-countrymen. It is impossible that he could 
have reached this insight on theoretical lines, for he was 
still dominated by the old childish conception of the earth 
as a flat disc resting on the water. His weather prognos- 
tications wore probably derived from the same source. He 
turned them to commercial uses, and would hire a number 
of oil-presses in order to exploit his advantage if he 
happened to foresee an exceptional harvest in the olive 
gardens. The knowledge of astronomy ho acquired was 
put at the disposal of the seafarers, for his fellow-country- 
men practised commerce and navigation more extensively 
than any of their contemporaries. He directed their 
attention to the Little Bear as the constellation which 
most precisely marks the north, Jt 155 doubtful if he wrote 

4 S <7;V X A" 

books, Jjut his doctrine of primary matter can hardly have 
boon published by that meansjj Aristotle, at least; though 
acquainted with it, is plainly at a loss to know how Thales 
supported it, and approaches his reasons from a conjec- 
tural point of view;,/ The food of the animal and vegetable 
world being damp; organic warmth has its origin in damp- 
ness ; further, the same quality is displayed by vegetable 
and animal seeds. On this account, according to Aristotle, 
Thales would have regarded water, the principle of nil damp- 
ness, as the primary element, Hut whether or not Thales 
was actually influenced by such considerations, whether or 
not he was affected by older speculations, both native ami 
foreign, and to what extent, if at all, he was dependent 
on them, is as much a riddle to us, at the present date at 
least, as his attitude towards things theological. 

The doctrine of primary matter admitted ancl required 
extension on three several lines. First, the rank assigned 
by Thales to water in the precedence of matter could not 
remain unassailed. Air as the most volatile, and fire as 
the most powerful, of the widest-spread elements, would 
inevitably find advocates to contest the prominence to 
which the fluid element was promoted. Secondly, it would 
occur to some reflective and far-sighted genius that it was 
vain to look for the primordial form of matter in the circle 
of its present and visible manifestations, but that it was 
necessary to go behind and beyond them. Lastly, the 
theory of a primary element contained a germ of scepticism 
which was destined sooner or later to come to maturity of 
growth. Thales might be content to conclude that ail 
things proceed from water and return to it again, but his 
doctrine was obviously liable to be expanded in course of 
time Into the contention that the primary form of matter 
was its only true and real shape, and that the rest were 
mere delusions. And if it were once believed that wood 
and iron, for example, were not wood and iron, but water 
or air, there was not the remotest reason why the suspicion 
of the evidence offense should make a pause at that point 
Anaximander, who was bom in 610 B.C*, followed 
1 ' qf these lines of thought Hf wa* the *>n of 


Praxiades, and, like Thales, a native of Miletus, and may 
well have been his friend and disciple. We may fairly look 
on Anaximander as the author of the natural philosophy of 
Greece, and consequently of the Occident. /He was the 
first to attempt to introduce a scientific method in answer- 
ing the vast questions as to the origin of the universe, the 
earth, and its inhabitants, ' He had an extraordinary sense 
for identity, a remarkable faculty for recognizing elusive 
analogies, and an impressive talent for inferring the imper- 
ceptible from the perceptible. Childish as some of his 
endeavours were to grope out the way of nature, yet his 
merits as a pioneer and a path-finder command our awe and 
respect Unfortunately, we have frequently to depend on 
scanty, detached, and partly contradictory reports for our 
knowledge of his ideas. His work on "Nature" is the 
first account of scientific doctrines which we know of 'in 
Greek prose, and this monument of a life devoted to deep 
reflection and .pccupied partly with affairs of state, suffered 
untimely loss/ Anaximander did not decide to publish it 
till shortly before his death at the age of sixty-three. 
Manifold and eminently meritorious were the preliminary 
labours which were crowned by this latest production, of 
which but a few lines have reached us, with no sentence 
entire. Anaximander first gave the Greeks a map of the 
earth and a globe of the sky. Though his name was not 
illustrious in the annals of travel, yet his map comprised 
the researches of all the travellers who returned from their 
voyages over land and sea to his Ionian home, which en- 
joyed exceptional advantages as the centre of the tourists' 
world. Ancient Egypt had not been ignorant of the art 
of map-making, but the practice had been confined to the 
graphic reproduction of separate districts. The dwellers in 
the valley of the Nile had never conceived the thought of a 
general map of the world, nor indeed were their unfamiliarity 
with the sea and their lack of distant colonies adapted 
to the collection of the necessary material We are told 
that a characteristic feature of Anaximander's chart of the 
world was the assumption of a sea-basin surrounded by 
land, and again of an outer sea encircling the earth with 
I. E 

5O GKKXK 1 77//A T AV<;A\V. 

a girdle. Doubtless the father of .scientific geography was 
acquainted with the Babylonian invention of the ^nnmot% 
or pointer, as a means to mathematical and astronomical 
mensuration. The pointer rested on a horizontal basis, 
and the length of its shadow, varying with the hours ami 
seasons, served to determine the true* meridian of any 
given locality, and to discover the four cardinal points and 
the winter and summer solstices, Anaximandnr, or his 
successor Anaximenes- -the tradition halts between their 
namc8"is said to have set up a gnomon of this kind in 
Sparta, This history of science does not rceo;jm;*,e our 
philosopher as the author of new mathematical doctrines, 
though it credits him \vith a systematic exposition of ^<o- 
metry. But at least ho cannot be written down as lacking 
mathematical training; his accounts of the ,%i;t* of tin! 
heavenly bodies, thou;h hardly intelligible at this datc 
afford good evidence to the contrary. As an a^tr^nomer, 
tmr Milesian was the first to make a wrll-nijjh complete 
breach with the puerile conceptions of antiquity. If ho 
stilt failed to conceive the earth as a globe, he was equally 
far from imagining it as a flat disc, resting on a IMM,<; 
and covered by the bell-like vault of heaven, IJr did not 
represent the sun as sinking every night into Ottawjs 
that fie wet 1 round the earth, nor yet as following in its 
channel from the west to thr east. If some r.tMly ami 
regular movement was to account for the fad that the 
sun and the rest of the .stars, after tltry had set In the 
west, ruse once more in the east, Aitaxinmnder was com- 
pelled to suppose that they continued underground the 
revolving movement which we watch abow the* horiwm, 
His supposition was supj>orted by the observation tiut 
the constellations next tu the {K>le never set, but tlegcrilte 
a revolution* Hence the he.avcnly hemisphere that we we 
must actually form a half of a complete .sphere. The dome 
of heaven stretched abuvo our heads was pcriWtal by a 
complementary dome beneath our feet Earth wan deprived 
of the basis stretching to unfuthomed depths un which she 
have been supported, and vvifj left free tu float in 
The pancake theory was ubanUunal in favour of a 


columnar or cylindrical earth, with its equilibrium guaran- 
teed by the condition of a base-diameter longer than the 
measure of its height. The proportion of three to one, 
which fulfilled that condition, probably commended itself 
to the ancient philosopher by its simplicity. But he em- 
ployed a remarkable argument to explain the equipoise 
of the drum-shaped earth, ascribing its undistracted condi- 
tion to the equal distance it maintained from all parts of 
the heavenly vault This doctrine commits the Milesian 
philosopher to two opinions : on the one hand, gravity 
cannot have been identified by him with a downward 
tendency ; on the other hand, he is obviously a precursor 
of that school of metaphysicians who preferred to base the 
law of inertia on d priori grounds rather than on expe- 
rience. It has been said that a body at rest could not 
begin to move except by the impulse of some outside 
cause, for if it did it would have to move either up or 
down, or forwards or backwards. But as there was no 
reason why it should do the one rather than the other, 
therefore it did not move at all Thus Aristotle, who 
called the argument of this ancient philosopher a brilliant 
mistake, compared Anaximander's earth at rest to a hungry 
man who would have to starve because he had no reason 
to stretch his hand to the right rather than to the left, in 
front of him rather than behind him, in order to reach the 
food disposed at equal distances all round. For the present, 
however, we must turn our attention to Anaximander's 
attempts at cosmogony. 

Hesiod's theogony has already made us acquainted with 
the immemorial conception of the universe beginning 
in chaos. We saw that the idea of chaos was produced by 
the endless extension of the void yawning between heaven 
and earth. We saw, too, that those early philosophers took 
account of one only of the three dimensions of space 
height or depth without respect to its relation with 
length and breadth. This conception, logically followed 
out, put space, unbounded in all directions, in the place 
of the gaping chasm, and such space, filled with matter, 
was what Anaximander's theory started from. But 


thr question arnse, What w,is this primary m.iUrr r*c- 
trwlrd in infinite space? Wr ran stair at nm:e that it 
UMS no matter with which \vr? an* ;u'<jtuiinU'd, Such 
nf matter, with their rntiatant fusion and 
wrrc rrgankd by Atiaximan<li*r .is factors nf r*jti,il 
ant! rights anil hr would rrrtainly not have pmmntrd 
one of them tn be the authnr or progenitor of the rent. Anil 
of all the unsuitable ratulufatcH for that |i>t the Hrmriital 
water of Th.ilr* muni have? appeared to him tn Jic fhr tvnr*t, 
It?* very existence* requiretl the prrnuinptinn of warmth 
whirh, orcimlinR in the philoMiphy of that i^e. wan r;iUiric 
matter, or fur, For solids are changetl to fliii*!?* hy melt* 
ing, that in, hy the application of heat c?r ralortc mailer. 
Similarly .iirHtil*tance*, such an steam, are pnivliicrd by 
the action nf (ire on fluids. Thus the solitl anil the fiery 
Hcemcct to lie wnlcly ijualificil to Icail off the tine of itult* 
viilual roncrptiniiH* And the very contrast between the 
two causril them to he looked on iui a united |atr* the 
eum]iU?mrntary membern of which had come smiulUncoujOy 
lo r?<ifftenccf, /Thufi they actually figure in Anaxirnamlcr 
nn (l the cold IV nnd " the warm/ 4 and he set them down to 
a process of "differentiation* fram the original primary 
matter which cnmpriscd all material variationn. Hut we 
are not acquainted with his further idea* on the origin of 
the endless scries of separate substances. We can merely 
conjecture that a progressive "differentiation" from the 
fundamental forms of matter wan auppcwcd to continue 
the process juit described* But however that may have 
been, the ftubrtancei were at least arranged about and 
above one another in the order of their weight and density* 
The earth was the innermost kernel ; its surface was 
covered by water; next came a layer of air; and the 
whole was enclosed by a ring of fire, as "the tree by ft* 
bark* 9 At this point a twofold problem obtrtidcd Itself oo 
the*orderly mind of Anaxiraander* He saw that the earth 
still formed the kernel of the structure, with the air as its 
Mfeer raiment, but there was no longer a uniform wveftntf 
rf water, and fins was merely visible at separate points of 
Sl^ though these Indeed were Innwersbte So he 

A A r - f AYJ/W AWiflV!' COSMCH10XY. 5 3 

began to ask whence arose this disturbance of the pri- 
mordial uniform programme for the distribution of matter, 
His answer took shape as follows: The existing sea was 
merely a residue of the original roof of water, the content 
of the sea having been reduced in course of time by 
the evaporating action of the sun. His assumption was 
supported by the evidence of geology, which plainly showed 
that the sea had retreated at many points of the Mediter- 
ranean basin* Whether he relied on the formation of 
deltas or on the discovery of sea-shells on dry land, 
AnaximandtT drew the most far-reaching conclusions in 
support of his doctrine from phenomena of that kind. As 
to the ring of fire, he believed that it burst at some tirfie, 
doubtless by the violent dislocation of masses on the 
principle of the sling-stone, a theory which reminds us of 
the doctrine of Kant and Laplace. Our philosopher 
would obviously have been acquainted with the operation 
of centrifugal force, by watching the games of children 
and the use of sling-stones in war. 1 le would have noticed 
that the centrifugal force operated with greater intensity 
in proportion to the larger sixe of the stone slung at the 
end of the line. Hence he seems to have concluded 
that, taking the earth as the centre of the world, the great 
mass of the sun had been flung to the furthest distance; 
next, at u lesser distance, the smaller mass of the moon ; 
and, nearest of all, the little .stars in their order, planets 
and fixed stars alike. But Anuximundcr'a imagination did 
nut .stop at this point* He thought that masses of air 
were torn away by the same force, that thuy became con- 
geaicd in the process, and elused on the masses* of lire* 
These husks of air, so to speak, with their fiery content* 
inside, he conceived in the apix'urance of whucta, provided 
with opening like the month of a bellow^ from which a 
constant stream of fire Issued, One wonders how he 
reached this conception, and a conjectural answer may be 
Ijivcn UH follows ; nun, moon, and Htara revolved round the 
earth, but while there was no known analogy for the 
regular revolution in space of masses of fire, the rotation 
of wheels was a mutter of daily observation. Thus, 


concrete objects took the place of abstract orbits, and the 
difficulty of the problem was very considerably reduced. 
As long as the wheels existed, and their motory impulse 
lasted, the rotation of the stars was assured. Finally, 
Anaximandcr explained the eclipses of the sun and moon 
by temporary obstructions in the orifices of the sun-wheel 
and the moon-wheel. 

The ingenuity of the philosopher of Miletus was like- 
wise devoted to the problem of organic creation. lie 
conceived the first animals to have sprung from sea- 
slime, presumably because the animal body is composed 
of solid and fluid elements. Hence, as we saw in the 
Homeric poems, water and earth were supposed to be its 
elements. But the presumption may have been strengthened 
by the wealth of all kinds of life contained in the sea, not 
to mention the discovery of the remains of pro-historic 
marine monsters. Further, Anaximander attributed to 
those primeval animals a bristly integument, which they 
cast at the transition from sea to land ; it is likely enougli 
that the analogous change sustained by some insect larvai 
may have led him to this hypothesis. We can hardly 
doubt that he traced the forefathers of terrestrial fauna 
from the descendants of these marine animals, thus 
obtaining a first vague glimpse of the modern theory of 
evolution. His statements on the origin of human species 
were more definite. Mythology represented the earliest 
men as having sprung directly from the earth, but Anaxi- 
mander found the following objection to the adoption of 
that theory. The helpless human Infant, who requires 
more lasting attention than any other species of being, 
could never have kept himself alive at least, by natural 
means, So our philosopher looked for analogies to 
facilitate the reading of this riddle* He found his best 
counsellor in the shark, who was popularly believed to 
swallow her young when they crept out of their shell, to 
vomit them forth and swallow them again, and go on 
repeating the process till the young animal was strong 
enough to support an independent existence. Similarly, 
he supposed that the ancestors of the human race had 


their origin in the bellies of fish, and did not quit that 
habitation till they had reached full vigour. Possibly 
Anaximander was influenced in this belief by the old 
Babylonian theory of a primeval race of fish-men, but that, 
at least, we cannot assert with confidence. 

But, whatever his views of the origin of separate worlds, 
separate forms of matter, and separate beings and substances 
may have been, one point, at any rate, does not admit of the 
least doubt. He was quite clear that every created thing Is 
doomed to destruction. Primary matter alone, the source 
and destination of all life, he regarded as "without begin- 
ning and without end." And his conviction afforded him 
a satisfaction which we may characterize as a moral or 
religious sentiment. Each separate existence he regarded 
as an iniquity, a usurpation, for which the clashing and 
mutually exterminating forms of life would " suffer atone- 
ment and penalty in the ordinance of time." All single 
substances were destructible, all forms of life decomposed and 
died, and Anaximander extended these material processes 
to a comprehensive natural order which transformed itself 
in his mind to a comprehensive order of justice. He might 
have cried with Mephistopheles that " all that hath exist- 
ence is worthy to decay." Nothing seemed to him "divine 1 * 
but Matter, the repository of force, dateless, " eternal and 
unaging." Divine, too, in his conception were the separate 
worlds or heavens, but their divinity was limited by the 
fact that, having been created, they were liable to decay, 
and they ranked as gods of an inferior order, as it were, 
who could count on a protracted life in succession to, if 
not in co-existence with, one another, but whose life at the 
best was but temporal. We are not told by what processes 
they returned again and again to the womb of primary 
matter, but we may conjecture that such processes were 
connected with the principle of differentiation. We saw that 
"differentiation" was responsible for the origin of the worlds^, 
and their separate existence was doubtless put an end to in 
the course of long cosmic periods by fresh admixtures and 
combinations of their elements. Everything would be 
gradually brought back to the undivided unity of the 


original universal Being, which would thus prove its 
inexhaustible vital force by ever-fresh transmutations, and 
would realize its invincible supremacy in ever-fresh acts 
of destruction. 

4. Anaximenes, son of Eurystratos, the third great 
citizen of Miletus, who died between 528 and 524 U.C., 
walked in the footsteps of Thales. He substituted air for 
water as the primary principle which engendered " all that 
was, that is, and that shall be." So completely did air 
succeed to the inheritance of the discredited element that 
Anaximenes conceived it as the basis of the earth, which 
figured once again as a flat disc. Nor is it hard to explain 
the preference shown to air. Its greater mobility and its 
greater extension doubtless prompted its choice instead of 
the fluid element, The first of these qualities was ex-' 
pressly mentioned by Anaximenes himself in the sole 
fragment of his work that we possess, composed, we are 
told, in " simple unadorned " prose. Matter, we remember, 
in the doctrine of all these philosophers the so-called 
Ionian physiologists was commonly supposed to contain 
in itself the cause of its own motion, and nothing could 
be more natural than that precedence should be given to 
its more mobile form, the form that ranks in organic life 
as the vehicle of vital and psychic force, in which con- 
nection it is useful to recall that " psyche," or soul, .signifies 
"breath." Anaximenes himself compared the breath of 
life with the air. The one, as he believed, held together 
human and animal life, and the other composed the world 
to unity. When he came to the question of its extension, 
he had merely to imagine earth, water, and fire as islands 
in an ocean of air which spread about them on all sides, 
penetrating all the pores and interstices of the rest of 
material substances, and bathing their smallest particles. 
Like his predecessor, Anaximenes ascribed to the primary 
matter unlimited diffusion and incessant motion. But the 
process by which he derived from it other material sub- 
stances rested in his argument, not on speculative imagina- 
tion, but on actual observation. He was the first to pro- 
claim as the ultimate reason of all material transformation 


"true cause/' a vera causa in Newton's sense of the words, 
id thereon rests his title to immortality. He did not 
>llow Anaximander in deriving "the warm" and "the 
Did" from primary matter by the enigmatic process of 
differentiation," but he ascribed the separation of material 
ibstances to Condensation and Rarefaction, or differences 
f proximity and distance in the particles. When most 
yenly diffused in its normal state, so to speak air is 
ivisible ; when most finely diffused it becomes fire, and 
i its progress towards condensation it becomes liquid, and 
nally solid. All substanceswe may read into the text 
f the fragment from Anaximenes are in themselves 
apable of assuming each of the three forms of aggrega- 
ton, whether or not we have hitherto succeeded in 
ffecting the transformation. The importance of this 
hilosophic discovery will be obvious to every one, if he 
emembers that it was not till a hundred years ago that 
t became the common property of the most advanced 
hinkers, and even then not without a struggle. More- 
>ver, to read between the lines of Anaximenes' meditations, 
f our senses were fine enough, we should recognize through 
til these transformations the identical particles of matter 
low drawing nearer to one another, and now withdrawing 
.0 a greater distance. Thus his doctrine affords a foretaste 
>f the atomic theory, a conception of the material world 
vhich, whether or not it pronounces the last word on the 
subject, has at least proved down to contemporary times 
in invaluable aid to philosophy. It detracts but little 
rom his claim to immortality that Anaximenes took the 
:rouble to support his teaching by miserably misunderstood 
experiments. One of these may be mentioned in illustra- 
tion : he urged as a serious argument on behalf of his 
doctrine that the air of the whistle is cold, and the air of 
the yawn is warm. 

The doctrine of matter, as we have seen, made immense 
strides under the comprehensive induction of Anaximenes, 
and one might fairly expect that similar progress would 
be recorded in the instance of astronomy. Unfortunately, 
such expectation will be disappointed. Now for the first 


time we arc presented with a spectacle which the history 
of the sciences brings again and again before our eyes. 
We need not entirely defer to Mr. Buckle's plausible 
view of the essential opposition between the inductive 
and the deductive methods ; but we may fairly admit 
that the representatives of either seldom or never exhibit 
a talent for both. Turning from the general to the 
particular, it is hardly surprising to find that Anaxi- 
mander's temerity of thought left many errors of fact for 
his more pedestrian successor to fasten on. Anaximenes, 
the successor in question, was keen-sighted enough to 
repudiate the puerile explanation of eclipses by temporary 
obstructions in the sun-wheel and moon-wheel ; unluckily, 
he was not far-sighted enough to recognize the merits 
and extend the conclusions of the clever anticipation of 
the theory of attraction designed to justify the equipoise 
of the earth. Thus his critical intellect and smaller 
endowment of imagination united their qualities and 
defects, and Anaximenes descended a few paces from the 
height reached by his predecessor. We have already 
mentioned his return to the disc-and-basis conception of 
the earth. Consequently the sun could not move under 
the earth at night, but only sideways round -it. Thus, 
in order to account for its invisibility at night, lie was 
reduced to suppose that it was hidden behind high 
mountains in the north, or that it receded further from 
the earth than during the day. We need not dwell on 
the details of his somewhat crude astronomy. It was 
partly redeemed by the statement that the luminaries are 
accompanied by dark earth-like bodies, and Anaximenes 
doubtless made this statement in order to account for 
eclipses on the theory correct enough in principle of 
occupation. We are occasionally astounded at the happi- 
ness, sometimes at the correctness, of his guesses at the 
nature of meteorological and other natural phenomena. He 
dealt with the lightning, the rainbow, earthquakes, saline 
phosphorescence, hail, and snow, the last two with especial 
success, and even where his explanation was totally wrong, 
it was extremely ingenious and significant in principle. 


The reasoning on which he based his views of saline 
phosphorescence may, for example, be reconstructed as 
follows. Air in its finest state of diffusion turns to fire, 
and accordingly burns and shines ; but these qualities do 
not spontaneously arise from that state of diffusion, but 
are indigenous to air, and in favourable circumstances may 
be recognizable even in another state. Now, an exception- 
ally dark background, such as the sea by night, will give 
visibility to the most dimly luminous body. Thus set in 
relief, the particles of air which enter the hollows where 
the waves are parted by the oar, become bright and 
shining. Here we meet the earliest gleams of the thought 
that the qualities of bodies are not liable to abrupt 
changes. It is a thought which will reappear as the 
qualitative constancy of matter, and which we shall find 
maintained by the later nature-philosophers with uncom- 
promising vigour. Finally, Anaximenes agrees with 
Anaximander in his theoiy of cosmic periods and of 
quasi-secondary gods, or of gods derived from the 
"divine" primary substance, and therefore intrinsically 

5. Far from the streaming life of the market and the 
roaring docks of Miletus, the teachings of Heraclitus 
were matured in the shadow of a sanctuary. Heraclitus 
was the first of the philosophers of Greece whom we are 
passing in review by whom the counting-board, the 
measuring-tape, and the drawing-block were alike eschewed. 
Without using his hands in any way, he devoted himself 
entirely to speculation, and the really remarkable fertility 
of his mind is still a source of instruction and refresh- 
ment. At the same time he was a mere philosopher, in 
the less complimentary sense of the term. He was a man, 
that is to say, who, though master in no trade, sat in 
judgment over the masters in all. We have still many 
fragments of his work, composed in language somewhat 
florid in style and not devoid of artificial touches; and 
these, with a few important details of his life, bring the 
Imposing figure of " the obscure or dark " man nearer to 
us than that of any of his predecessors or contemporaries. 


Moreover, legend was early employed in spinning its threads 
about the head of the " weeping " philosopher. The years 
of his birth and death are unknown to us ; his " floruit " 
was placed about the sixty-ninth Olympiad (504-501 B.C.), 
presumably on the ground of some occurrence with a 
specific date in which he took a part. He was a descendant 
of the city-kings of Ephesus, with claims of his own to 
the joint hierarchic and monarchical office ; and though 
he yielded these claims to his brother, there is no doubt 
that he frequently intervened in the politics of his birth- 
place, and he is even said to have induced the ruling 
prince, Melancomas, to resign his usurped authority. But 
the date of the completion of his work, on account of its 
political references, cannot be placed before 478 B.C. 

Solitude and the beauty of nature were the muses of 
Heraclitus. He was a man of abounding pride and self- 
confidence, and he sat at no master's feet. If we seek 
the first springs at which he satisfied his thirst for know- 
ledge, and caught the intimations of universal life and of the 
laws that rule it, we must go back to his pensive boyhood, 
when he roamed in the enchanting hills, with their well- 
nigh tropical luxuriance/that surrouridec} his native city. 
The greats poets of his country fed his childish fancy, 
and filled it with gorgeous images, but they afforded no 
lasting satisfaction to his mature intellect. For, chiefly 
owing to the influence of Xenophanes, men began to 
doubt the reality of the myths, and the Homeric gods, 
with their human lusts and passions, began to be replaced 
in sensitive souls by the products of a higher ideal. 
The poet who, according to Herodotus, was associated 
with Hesiod in the invention of Greek religion would 
not have been honoured by H^eraclitus, but "banished 
from public recitations and scourged with rods." For 
Heraclitus was equally opposed to all objects of 
popular belief. He contemned the worship of images, 
which was as if "a man should chatter to a stone wall;" 
he despised the system of sin-offerings which expiated 
one stain by another/" just as if a man who had stepped 
into mud were to wash himself clean with mud / and he 


inveighed against the "abominable" rites of the Bac- 
chanalia as strongly as against the " unhallowed observance" 
of the Mysteries. Hesiod "the polymath, whom most 
men follow as their master," Pythagoras the philosophizing 
mathematician, Xenophanes the philosophic . rhapsodist, 
Hecataeus the historian and geographer, were all tarred 
with the same brush. He learnt from them all, but he 
owned the mastery of none. For Bias alone, with his simple 
practical counsels of wisdom, he reserved a word of warm 
praise, and he acknowledges his debt to Anaximander, 
whose influence is real and lasting, by omitting him, with 
Thales and Anaximenes, from the list of the proscribed 
masters of polymathy "which does not instruct the mind.'* 
The best in himself he believed that he owed to himself, for 
" of all whose opinions "^he was acquainted with " none had 
attained true insight" ''And if his attitude towards poets 
and thinkers was distinguished by sullenness or mistrust, 
we can conceive the contempt he must have felt for the 
mass of the people. His invectives fall on them like 
hailstones; "they fill their bellies like cattle," and "ten 
thousand do not turn the scale against a single man of 
worth." We can hardly expect that a man who held the 
mob in such light esteem should have cared to court 
its favour, or should even have troubled himself to make 
his meaning understanded of the people. His enigmatic 
philosophy is addressee! to the fit and few, without regard 
to the multitude "baying like curs at a stranger," or to 
" the ass that preferred the bundle of hay to the nugget 
of gold," Heraclitus was aware of the adverse criticism 
which would attach to the oracular form and melancholy 
contents of his work, but he met it by an appeal to the 
most illustrious examples. The Pythian god " expresses 
naught and conceals naught, but merely hints at his 
meaning ; " and " the voice of the Sibyl rings through the 
centuries by the power of the god that speaks through her 
and proclaims its joyless message to mankind, naked and un- 
adorned." Nor was Heraclitus troubled by theipostponement 
of his reward ; "one thing," says a fragment/ "worthy men 
choose in preference to all others renown incorruptible." 


The political and moral condition of Ephesus served 
to feed the contempt which Heraclitus felt for his fellow- 
men. The stranger's yoke had oppressed the Greeks of 
Asia Minor for half a century or more. Oppressive though 
it was, its immediate harshness was frequently relieved 
by the fact that indigenous dynasties interposed between 
the subject states and the loosely knit feudal empire of 
Persia. Still, it would have been nothing less than a 
miracle, if the loss of national independence had not 
brought in its train a depression of public spirit and an 
excessive growth of private interests. Indeed, the soil 
for such symptoms of decay had been long since prepared. 
The heightened standard of luxury and the refinement 
of the East had partly sapped the vigour, while it 
corrected the savagery, of ancient Greece. Given these 
conditions, and given the gall and venom of Heraclitus, 
we are not surprised that his criticism fastened unfavourably 
on his fellow-countrymen, and that he found them little 
suited to wield the sceptre at the time that democracy 
arose from the wreck of the Persian sway. Be this as 
it may, he was found in the party-feuds of that epoch on 
the side of the aristocrats, whose cause he espoused with 
a zeal proportionate to the contempt he cherished for his 
antagonists. The climax of his hate was reached in the 
following embittered utterance : 

" The Ephesians would do well to hang themselves man by man, 
and to deliver their city to their infant sons, seeing that they 
expelled Hennodorus, saying, c No worthy man shall be among 
us ; if there arise such a man, let him dwell elsewhere and with 
another people. ' "' 

The exile who is the subject of this eulogy found a 
new and honourable field for his activity in a distant home. 
His juristic advice was consulted by the authors of the 
Roman laws of the Twelve Tables, and a monument was 
erected to his memory which was seen as recently as by 
Pliny. But the veteran friend of Hermodorus was weary 
of the yoke of popular rule. He withdrew to the solitude 
of the mountains, where he ended his days, having first 


deposited in the temple of Artemis a roll of manuscripl 
containing the result of his life's work as an inheritance 
for generations to come. 

The full enjoyment of this precious book was denied 
even to the ancients. It was so heterogeneous and self- 
contradictory that Theophrastus could find no othei 
explanation than that its author had been subject tc 
occasional mental aberrations. Aristotle complained oi 
its bewildering grammatical difficulties, and a host oJ 
commentators some of them of the best repute have 
endeavoured to illumine the dark places in which the 
work abounds. The broken fragments that have reached 
us defy all attempts to restore them to their origina 
consecution, or to attribute them with certainty to the 
three sections physics, ethics, and politics in which the 
work was divided. 

Heraclitus' great claim to originality does not rest 01 
his theory of matter, nor yet on his theory of nature. I 
is rather to be discovered in the fact that he was the firs 1 
to build bridges, which have never since been destroyed 
between the natural and the spiritual life, and that h< 
constructed comprehensive generalizations comprising botl 
realms of human knowledge, as it were, with a might} 
bow. In principle he is most closely allied with Anaxi 
mander. Both were equally impressed by the transitori 
ness of all single objects, the ceaseless mutation anc 
transformation of things, and the aspect of the order o 
nature as an order in law. But Heraclitus parted from hi; 
greatest predecessor in the restlessness of his temperament 
so averse from all patient research, in the more poetii 
trend of his imagination, and in his demand for conception; 
of a richer and more sculpturesque kind. The priman 
matter of Anaximandcr, devoid of all qualitative distinction 
and the colourless, invisible First Substance of Anaximenet 
were alike alien to his taste. The form of matter whic] 
seemed to Heraclitus best to correspond to the process of th 
world, and therefore the most dignified, was fire. It neve 
bore the remotest appearance of rest or even of minima 
movement ; it was the principle of vital heat in beings c 


higher organism, and thus it appeared as the element of 
animation engendering and consuming all things. "This 
one order of all things," he exclaims, "was created by 
none of the gods, nor yet by any of mankind, but it 
ever was, and is, and shall be eternal fire ignited by 
measure, and extinguished by measure." He represents 
primary fire as sinking to the other and lower forms of 
matter in a minor and a major circle, and as rising again 
through the same gradations to its original form, for " the 
up-road and the down-road are one." Fire changes to 
water, and as water half of it returns directly to heaven as 
"fire-steam," half of it changes to earth, which becomes 
water again, and thus is finally changed back to fire. 
Evaporation, melting, and freezing may be regarded as the 
processes which operate in this circular system. We must 
remember, too, that the extinction of a burning substance 
by water would have counted in the primitive physics of 
Heraclitus as a transformation of fire to water. The first 
principle of our poet-philosopher is not merely the ceaseless 
spring of birth and decay ; it is not merely divine, as it 
was to his predecessors. Heraclitus regarded it as the 
source of the world's intelligence, as the conscious regula- 
tive principle of all existence which "will not be called 
Zeus," since it is not a personal being with individuality 
of its own, and yet " will be called Zeus," since it is the 
supreme principle of the world, and accordingly the highest 
principle of life. In this connection it should be remem- 
bered that the Greek "zen" means "to live," and the 
corresponding forms of the name Zeus may well be kept 
in recollection. Still, we should not regard this primary 
being as a divinity acting with a fixed purpose, and 
selecting the means appropriate to his end. We are rather 
taught to regard him as a " boy at play," amusing himself 
with counters, and building castles on the sea-shore for 
the sake of throwing them do\Vn again. Construction 
and destruction, destruction and construction this is the 
principle which regulates all the circles of natural life, 
from the smallest to the greatest. Cosmos itself, which 
sprang from primary fire, 13 bound to return to it 


by a double process which, however protracted its duration, 
operates in fixed periods, and will constantly repeat its 

The speculations of Heraclitus in this respect were 
assisted by the geological observations of Xenophanes and 
Anaximander. He seems to have followed the last-named 
thinker in concluding, from the obvious evidence of the 
Mediterranean Sea, that the extension of the water had been 
greater in past time than it was in the present ; and we 
can quite well understand that he should push his physical 
doctrines to the further inference that, as land proceeded 
from water, so water proceeded from fire. Thus he reached a 
point of departure when nothing but fire existed. But seeing 
that he was pledged to Anaximander's belief in a circular 
order of occurrences, he could not regard that process of 
evolution as a single and unique event. All other material 
substances sprang from fire, and into fire they were bound 
to return, in order that the process of differentiation 
might begin anew and again reach the same end. In 
breadth of view Heraclitus is here akin to the greatest of 
modern philosophers, and, whether by chance or by genius, 
he is in agreement with them at least in respect to the 
solar system, even in the details of his conception of the 
cyclical system of the world. To him as to them a ball 
of fire marks the starting-point and the goal of each cosmic 

So much, perhaps, for the broad lines of Heraclitus' 
doctrine. Unluckily he found himself in occasional contra- 
diction, not merely with the nature of things, but with the 
principles of his own teaching, and it is hard to say how 
far he was conscious of these objections, and how he 
reconciled them in his own mind. When we read his 
axiom that "fire feeds on vapours which rise from the 
damp/* we are impelled to wonder if the gradual diminu- 
"fiSTand final extinction of the fluid element would not 
involve the destruction of the source of the food of fire. 
And again, if space were already full, what room could be 
found there for Matter when its volume was increased by 
heat ? The Stoics who followed fleraclitus found a way 
VOL, i. F 


out of his difficulty by putting a vast expanse of empty 
space at his disposal for that purpose. We can assert 
with complete confidence, however, that Heraclitus was 
innocent of this expedient. The assumption of an empty 
space would have stamped him as a precursor of Leucippus, 
and our authorities would never have failed to acquaint us 
with that fact. 

Heraclitus, then, ascribed to matter an unceasing trans- 
mutation of forms and qualities. We have next to note 
that he regarded it as constantly moving in space. Matter, 
moreover, was alive to him, and its life was life not merely 
in the sense in which his immediate predecessors were 
correctly entitled " hylozoists " or animators of substance. 
In as far as they placed the cause of movement in matter 
itself, and not in an outside agent, they were followed by 
the Ephesian philosopher. But his " everlasting fire " was 
not merely alive in that sense. He watched the circula- 
tion of matter, as visible in the animal and vegetable 
kingdoms, and the fact impressed him so strongly that 
he used its analogy as the leading principle of all his 
reflections on material processes. All life was involved in 
continual decomposition and renewal ; and if matter was 
regarded as alive in the first-named meaning of that word, 
it is by no means surprising that by the association of 
ideas it should eventually be regarded as organically alive 
in the secondary meaning of the term. Hence was 
derived Heraclitus' doctrine of the flux of things. It was 
a mere optical delusion if we looked on anything as 
stationary: the thing was actually subject to incessant 
transformation. And if it were objected that the trans- 
formation did not lead to the destruction of the object, 
Heraclitus explained that as the particles of matter were 
detached from it they were constantly replaced and 
reunited in uninterrupted succession. His favourite simile 
was that of the flowing stream. "We cannot step into 
the same river twice, for fresh and ever fresh waters are 
constantly pouring into it." And since the river regarded 
as an enduring mass of water was the same, but regarded 
as a combination of particles was not tfee same, this 


reflection was pointed to the paradox that " we step into 
the same river, and we do not step into it ; we are, and 
we are not." 

The half-truths of Heraclitus* analogy were interwoven 
with correct observations and far-reaching Inferences, 
Among the inferences may be mentioned the supposition 
that our impressions of smell and of sight the inclusion 
of sight was natural to the belief of those times were pro- 
duced by particles of matter continually detaching them- 
selves from their respective objects. But be that as it may, 
his reasoning terminated in a theory of nature which displays 
quite remarkable points of likeness with the doctrines of 
modern physics. The agreement is so exact that a com- 
prehensive summary of those doctrines corresponds almost 
verbatim to an ancient account of the teaching of Hera- 
clitus. Aristotle, in a passage which plainly refers to the 
Ephesian and his disciples, states that " it is held by certain 
people that it is not the fact that some objects move while 
others do not, but that all objects are always moving, 
though their movements elude our observation." And a 
natural philosopher of our own times remarks that " modern 
science takes it for granted that the molecules of matter 
are always vibrating or in movement, . . . though these 
movements may be imperceptible." In these circum- 
stances, it is astonishing to recall the conditions of scientific 
knowledge at the date when Heraclitus was writing. It 
was an age which was equally ignorant of our theories of 
heat, light, and sound, which had no more reached the con- 
ception of waves of air and ether than it had perceived that 
a molecular movement underlies the sensation of heat even 
in solid bodies ; which had not the faintest acquaintance 
with chemical and cellular processes ; and which, finally, was 
without the microscope whereby our astonished gaze is made 
familiar with movements in places where the naked eye can 
only see blank rest, and whereby we are irresistibly per- 
suaded that the rule of motion extends infinitely further 
than our feeble observation can pursue it. Taking all these 
considerations in account, we are struck with the greatest 
admiration for the genius and insight of Heraclitus, and 


perhaps one is most astonished that his brilliant anticipa- 
tions produced so poor a crop of detailed knowledge of 
nature. But our disappointment should not dimmish the 
renown of the Ephesian philosopher. His mere recogni- 
tion of the fact that imperceptible motions exist served 
to break down the wall between the secrets of nature and 
their investigators. In order to render his discovery really 
useful and fertile, a second departure was required. The 
assumption had to be made of similarly invisible, inde- 
structible, and unchangeable particles which enter into the 
composition of all material substances and emerge unhurt 
from all their vicissitudes of form ; and this was the great 
contribution of the Atomists to the evolution of thought. 
Heraclitus himself was not to inaugurate the mechanical 
explanation of nature. For that task he was disqualified 
by the poetic bias of his mind. But he succeeded in 
drawing conclusions from his principle which served to 
illuminate some other departments of knowledge. 

The succession in qualitative mutations found its exact 
counterpart in co-existent diversity. Here too the attentive 
observer is confronted by a multiplicity which seems to 
threaten the unity of an object and of its constituent pro- 
perties. The action of an object may vary, even to the 
point of contradiction, with the varieties of the object on 
which it acts. *' Sea-water is the purest and most disgust- 
ing ; it is drinkable and wholesome for fishes, undrinkable 
and noxious for men/' I Every one who is acquainted with 
the fragments extant of Heraclitus* work will be aware 
that he was not recording an isolated observation in that 
sentence. Rather he was announcing for the first time the 
principlg of the relativity of qualities which he pushed 
forthwith, as his manner was, to its extreme consequences, 
in the words " good and bad are the same," reminding us 
of his former paradox, "We are and we are not/' And 
in point of fact the Ephesian's doctrine of flux and his 
doctrine of relativity lead to the same result ; the succes- 
sive states of an object, as well as its simultaneous qualities 
frequently both bear the stamp of a far-reaching diversity 
which amounts at times to complete contradiction. Our 


philosopher believed that he had rid himself of all definite- 
ness and fixity in being ; he revelled in phrases that set 
common sense at naught, and he forgot or neglected the 
reservations by which, and by which alone, such statements 
become comprehensible and acceptable. In one sense the 
river remains the same, in another sense it becomes a 
different river; in one aspect X is "good/* in another 
aspect it is "bad." Such distinctions troubled Heraclitus 
but little ; the inexperience of his thought played into 
the hands of its arrogance ; the more unfamiliar the results 
he reached, the more they satisfied his delight in paradox, 
his predilection for enigmatic oracles, and the light esteem 
in which he held all plain and obvious truths. Hence- 
forward he regarded it as proven, as a fundamental law 
in the natural as well as in the spiritual world that con- 
traries were not mutually exclusive, but rather presupposed 
and conditioned, or were even identical with, each other. 
It would be purblind folly to bear him a grudge for this, for 
in the case of mistaken or neglected truths, and especially 
in the instance of such truths as naturally lend themselves 
to mistake or neglect, the thing of supreme and primaiy 
importance is that they should be discovered at all. The 
exaggerations into which their discoverer is betrayed are 
as pardonable as they are intelligible, and in the long 
run they may be found to do more good than harm. The 
logician with his rod is not likely to keep them waiting 
very long ; and sooner or later the shears which are to 
clip the luxuriance of thought will do their remorseless 
work. Meantime the extravagance and assertiveness with 
which these elusive truths were originally invested will 
have set them in such brilliant relief that they can never 
again be overlooked. Above all, the point of their paradox 
will have penetrated the mind of their inventor, who will 
keep them in constant readiness as an inalienable posses- 
sion. Therefore the "speculative" revels of Heraclitus 
may be regarded by us as the source of the most precious 
contribution with which- he has enriched the treasury of 
human knowledge/ For verily the pen of the historian might 
hesitate where to' begin or end if he endeavoured to write 


an adequate account of the inexhaustible range of funda- 
mental truths contained in the exaggerated statements of 
Heraclitus. /His theory of relativity, for example, contained 
like a folded flower the correct doctrine of sense-perception 
with its recognition of the subjective factor ; and it taught 
Greek thinkers the lesson they were bound to acquire if 
they were to be saved from a bottomless scepticism?' that 
one and the same object in the outside world acts '"'differ- 
ently on different objects and individuals, and may even 
exercise varying effects on the varying states of the same 
individual. Nay, it brought the deeper and the more in- 
dispensable admission that opinions, laws, and institutions 
appropriate and wholesome for one phase of human develop- 
ment become inadequate, and unwholesome when another 
stage has been reached/ "Reason becomes nonsense, the 
blessing is turned to a curse" simply because, as time 
changes and as constituent elements vary, the same 
object may come to exercise a very different and even 
a contradictory effect. Relativism is the spur which 
pricks the side of a sluggish conservatism in all depart- 
ments of life taste and morals, politics and society and 
it is the absence of relativism in the present as in the past 
which lends the cry of " it has always been thus " its force 
in opposition to reform. And it serves not merely the 
cause of progress, but the cause of sound conservatism as 
well ; without a sense of relativity no sufficient explanation 
can be given, no satisfactory estimate made, of the changes, 
vicissitudes, and contradictions between the good and evil 
of yesterday and to-day. Without it, every actual alteration 
in existing institutions, every barest observation that the 
same laws are not always and universally valid, gives rise 
to a far-reaching and incurable scepticism as to the justifica- 
tion of all institutions whatever. Human life fulfils itself 
in many ways, and human nature adapts itself to its con- 
ditions of time and place, so that an adequate philosophy 
of life must be amenable to these Protean transformations, 
and no philosophy of life will be adequate which finds its 
salvation in a frigid rigidity and identifies every evolutionary 
change with the arbitrary dominion of chance. 


And now at last we reach the doctrine of the coexistence 
of contraries. Our poet-philosopher is never weary of its 
statement and illustration. He tells us that " the dissonant 
is in harmony with itself;" he assures us that "the 
invisible harmony which springs from contraries is better 
than the visible ; " and he states that " sickness has made 
health desirable, satiety hunger, and weariness rest." Now 
tvith oracular brevity, now with the clearness and breadth 
:>f sunlight, Heraclitus pointed his lesson that the law of 
:ontrast is supreme in nature no less than in human life, 
and that " it would not be better for mankind if they were 
jiven their desires ; " if, that is to say, all contraries were 
iissolved in an unalloyed harmony. Homer himself is 
Dlamed by Heraclitus as much for wishing to expel "all 
the evils of life " as for desiring to be rid of " strife from 
:he circle of gods and men," and thus promoting " the down- 
"all of the universe." The pithy dicta we have quoted 
-equire or admit of countless explanations. They express 
mplicitly or explicitly a long series of modern concep- 
:ions. They contain all that we denominate in the widest 
sense of the word "polarity" in the realm of natural 
orces ; they contain the necessity of change for the opera- 
:ion of sensation, and especially of pleasurable sensa- 
:ions ; they include the condition of the opposite evil in 
svery conception of good ; they include the indispensa- 
Dility of competition and of what we have learnt to call 
:he " struggle for existence," if human powers are to 
develop and increase ; and among much else they comprise 
:he necessity of the coexistence of antagonistic elements 
n state and society. And our philosopher's eye is ever 
jlancing from the inanimate to the animate, from animate 
;o inanimate creation. Or rather, the distinction was non- 
existent for him. To his eye the whole world was 
eternally living fire, and the soul, the vehicle of life, nay, 
:he godhead itself, were fire and nothing but fire. 

The hardest point in our inquiry is to credit Heraclitus 
tfith the sociological insight to which allusion was just 
now made ; but precisely in this regard the wording of one 
Df his dicta is absolutely unequivocal. He entitles war 


"the father and king" of all things or beings. Now, if 
the fragment had broken off here, no one would think of 
understanding it in any but its purely physical and cosmo- 
logical sense. On all sides the eye of the philosopher of 
Ephesus discovered the play of opposite forces and qualities, 
which reciprocally promoted and conditioned one another. 
He conceived a law of polarity encompassing the whole of 
life and comprising all separate laws in itself. Rest 
without struggle led in his conception to universal sleep, 
coma, and destruction ; " the mixture," he wrote, " which 
Is not shaken becomes decomposed." The principle of 
struggle and strife is at the bottom of that incessant motion 
which is the source and preservative of life ; and its 
qualities as progenitor, ruler, and guardian are characterized 
by the titles "father and king." Formerly one might 
have stopped at this point, but now we are enabled 
to go further, since a lucky discovery made about forty 
years ago has put us in possession of the continuation of 
the fragment. " Some," it goes on, " war has proved to 
be gods, others to be men ; some he has made slaves, 
others he has made freemen." The slaves are the prisoners 
of war and their descendants ; their conquerors and rulers 
are the freemen. Thus it is clear, from the drift of 
Heraclitus' argument, that he conceived war as testing and 
preserving the qualities of mankind, as making a distinction 
between the competent and the incompetent, as founding 
the state and organizing society. He praises war for 
bringing this differential value to full expression, and we 
perceive what significance he attached to it by his co-ordi- 
nation of gods and men with the categories of slaves and 
freemen. For war too effected the division between the 
human and divine : the man become god stood to the 
average man in the same relation as the freeman to the 
slave, and Heraclitus imagined that there were chosen 
spirits exalted from earthly life to divine being, besides 
the crowd of common souls hidden in the under-world and 
limited in that region of damp and misery to the single 
sense of smell in the place of the higher perceptions. He 
conceive'd a ladder of beings with different rungs of rank, 


different merits, different abilities, different excellences. 
He referred the succession of rank to a gradation of merit, 
and then inquired into its causes. These he discovered in 
the friction of forces which sometimes manifested itself as 
war in the strictest sense of that term, and sometimes as a 
kind of more or less metaphorical warfare. Such shades 
of meaning provided the requisite links between the 
cosmological and sociological significance of the phrase. 
Still, too much stress ought not to be laid on the use 
of metap&orical language. We have to allow for the 
degeneracy of his Ionian kinsfolk, whom Xenophanes 
was already castigating for their effeminate luxury; we 
have to reckon with the indolence of his fellow-citizens, 
against which Callinus was protesting, and with the heavy 
misfortunes which his country was suffering, before we can 
fully appreciate his estimation of the virtues of war. " The 
fallen in war," he exclaims, "are honoured by gods and 
men, and the greater the fall the louder the psean " of 
honour and admiration. But for the thinker whose strength 
lay in his genius for generalization, the most painful 
experiences were merely a spur to the pursuit of his track 
of thought. Its goal in this instance was no meaner object 
than the triumphant realization of the truth that struggle 
and resistance are a fundamental condition of the preser- 
vation of human power on its road to progressive perfection. 
However deep and numerous the truths may be which 
Heraclitus has taught us hitherto, the greatest surprise is 
yet in store for us. He pursued his observations of nature 
and human life through the series of single rules which he 
noted to one all-embracing rule. His eye perceived a 
universal law in strict unexceptional operation. And his 
recognition and proclamation of the universal rule of law, 
of the dominion of unexceptional causality, marks a 
distinct turning-point in the intellectual development of 
mankind. We may quote in this connection the following 
dicta of Heraclitus : 

" The sun will not transgress his measures : were he to do so, 
the Erinyes, abettors of Justice, would overtake him. 


" He who speaks with, understanding must take his foothold 
on what is common to all, even more firmly than the city stands 
on the foothold of law; for all human laws are nourished by 
divine law. ' 

" Though this logos this fundamental law existeth from all 
time, yet mankind are unaware of it, both ere they hear it and in 
the moment that they hear it," 

If we were asked how Heraclitus succeeded in climb- 
ing to these heights of knowledge, a provisional answer 
might be given that he was here summarizing tendencies 
which pervaded the spirit of his age. It was an age when 
man's acquaintance with nature had been extended, and 
his moral aspirations enlarged to a degree which could 
not rest satisfied with an explanation of the world based on 
the capricious and arbitrary interference of supernatural 
beings. The progressive exaltation of the supreme god 
the god of heaven kept pace with his moral refinement ; 
the attempt was constantly renewed to derive the many- 
coloured multiplicity of objects from a single material 
source, and in these phenomena we may mark the growing 
belief in the uniformity of the universe and in the unity 
of its rule. The road was open for the pursuit of all- 
comprehensive laws, and its pilgrims submitted to more 
and more stringent conditions. The astronomers had 
been the first to lay the foundations of exact natural 
science, and these had speedily been followed by the 
mathematical physicists, among whom Pythagoras takes 
the foremost place. We can hardly conceive the impres- 
sion that must have been produced when Pythagoras 
announced the results of his experiments in acoustics. 
Sound, the most volatile of phenomena, had been im- 
prisoned by number and measure, and had passed under 
their yoke; and what, men asked themselves, would in 
future be able to resist those tyrants ? The cry spread 
from Lower Italy through Greece, " number is the essence 
of things," It is perfectly plain that the Ephesian 
philosopher did not shut himself off from these influences. 
The ideas of harmony, of contrast, and especially of 
measure, are prominent features in his speculations, a 


large part of which may indisputably be referred to 
Pythagoras, and a minor part to the influence of Anaxi- 
mander. Heraclitus was not cast for the r&le of an exact 
investigator ; his passions were too free, he lacked the 
requisite soberness, and he was too prone to seek satiety 
in a debauch of metaphors ; but he was admirably suited 
to be the herald of the new philosophy. In this respect, 
as well as in his frequent injustice towards the actual 
promoters of science, he may fairly be compared with 
Francis Bacon, between whom and himself less convincing 
points of likeness have recently been remarked. But the 
power of Heraclitus was not confined to his force of language 
and his talent for plastic expression. The explanations he 
vouchsafed in single instances may have been childish to a 
degree ; he may have written that " the drunken man is led 
by a beardless boy and stumbles because his soul is wet," or 
that "a dry soul is the wisest and best;" but he was 
marked in an extraordinary degree by a genius for identity, 
for distinguishing likenesses under the most illusory dis- 
guises. He possessed an almost unparalleled faculty for 
pursuing views that he had obtained in a limited and special 
field through the whole perspective of life and through the 
twofold vista of the natural and spiritual worlds. We 
have already seen that he had no need of constructing a 
bridge between nature and spirit ; for him and his imme- 
diate predecessors the gulf no longer existed. And in 
this respect he was considerably assisted by his choice of 
a primary matter. This world was built of fire, or "soul- 
stufif," and starting from this assumption he was completely 
at liberty to extend his generalizations from any and 
every department of nature to the phenomena of soul 
and the political and social phenomena that proceed from 
them. To this we owe his comprehensive collection of 
generalizations, the pinnacle of which was reached in the 
recognition of universal law at the root of all mundane 

We have now to remark the particular impulse depend- 
ing on Heraclitus' theory of flux, together with his very 
imperfect theory of matter, which impelled him to climb 


that summit and to proclaim with all the emphasis at his 
disposal that the highest goal of knowledge was the one 
law regulating all events. Otherwise he must have appre- 
hended that no object of trustworthy knowledge would 
have been left extant, and the reproach unjustly levelled 
at him by Aristotle would have appeared to be thoroughly 
merited. But this was now out of court. Universal law 
stood unmoved and unshaken through all the changes of 
individual objects and all the vicissitudes of material 
forms, in defiance of the destruction on which the cosmic 
system hastened at regular intervals, and from which it 
was reconstructed anew ; and under the vague mystic 
description of universal reason or universal godhead it 
took its place by the side of primary matter, endowing 
it with reason and soul, as the one thing permanent in 
the cyclic stream of occurrences, without beginning and 
without end. To recognize universal law or reason 
was the highest function of intellect ; to bow to it and to 
obey it was the ultimate test of conduct. Obstinacy 
and self-will were the embodiments of falsehood and evil, 
which were fundamentally one. "Self-conceit" was com- 
pared with "epilepsy," one of the most terrible diseases 
that can befall mankind, and one which throughout 
antiquity was looked on as sent by demons. " Insolence," 
again, "must be extinguished like a conflagration." 
" Wisdom consists in this alone, to understand reason (or 
universal intelligence), which steers all things through 
all." It was by no means easy to satisfy this condition, 
for truth was paradoxical. " Nature," wrote the philosopher, 
"loves to hide herself, and escapes detection by her in- 
credibility." But the patient inquirer must use his best 
efforts, must keep his cheerful courage at the sticking- 
place, and be constantly equal to surprises, for "if ye 
expect not the unexpected, ye shall not find truth, seeing 
that it is hard to discern and not readily accessible." 
Again, we read that "we must not speculate about the 
highest things in lightness of heart," we must not be 
governed by caprice, for "punishment will overtake the 
lie-smith and the false witness," Human institutions 


were limited in duration and extent by their agreement 
with divine law, which " ruleth as far as it listeth, sufficeth 
for all, and overcometh all things." But within those 
limits the law shall prevail, which "the people shall 
defend like a rampart." But law was by no means the 
arbitrary whim of the many-headed unreasoning mob ; 
it was rather the insight and frequently u the counsel of 
one man," to whom " obedience was due " on account of 
his superior wisdom. 

Heraclitus exerted on posterity a curiously two-edged 
influence, and as an historical factor he reveals the same 
double aspect which is shown by natural objects in his 
theory. He became the head and fount, not merely of 
religious and conservative tendencies, but also of scepticism 
and revolution. If we may echo his own cry, he was and 
he was not a bulwark of conservatism, he was and he 
was not the champion of revolt. Still it was in accord- 
ance with his idiosyncrasy that the weight of his influence 
should have leaned to the side of defence. Within the 
school of the Stoics, his tendency was precisely opposed 
to the radical tendency of the Cynics. His views on 
the subordination of all occurrences to fixed laws were 
responsible for the strict and implacable determinism of the 
Stoics, which was liable in all but the clearest brains to 
pass into fatalism. From those views were derived the 
quality of resignation, not to say of quietism, which we 
meet as early as Cleanthes, and the willing submission to 
the dispensations of destiny of which Epictetus and Marcus 
Aurelius were the apostles. Heraclitus, too, is the first to 
introduce us to the Stoic manner of moulding and adapting 
philosophy to the requirements of popular belief. Similarly 
we" niay recall Hegel, his disciple in modern times, the 
author of the "philosophy of restoration," of the meta- 
physical glorification of tradition in church and state, and 
of the famous dictum, "the real is reasonable, and the 
reasonable is real." Yet the Neo-Hegelian radicalism, too, 
as is shown by the example of Lassalle, is also closely 
akin to Heraclitus. And for the most striking parallel, 
the exactest counterpart to the Ephesian which modern 



philosophy has produced, we must refer to the great 
revolutionary spirit of Proudhon. In separate and highly 
characteristic doctrines they are as alike as two peas, and 
Proudhon's mental habits and his consequent love of 
paradox remind us most vividly of Heraclitus. 

The key to the contradiction is not far to seek. The 
innermost essence of Heraclitism was its insight into the 
many-sidedness of things, and the breadth of its intellectual 
horizon as opposed to every kind of narrow-mindedness. 
The habit and capacity of broad views tend to reconcile 
us to the imperfectness of nature and the hardship of 
history. Frequently they help us to perceive the remedy 
beside the disease, the antidote beside the poison. They 
teach us to discern the deep inner harmony in apparent 
conflict, and to discover in what is ugly and hurtful inevitable 
bridges and stepping-stones to the beautiful and wholesome. 
Thus they lead to an indulgent judgment of the universe 
in its natural and historical aspects, and pave the way for 
" theodicies " and for attempts to redeem the character of 
single individuals as well as of entire epochs. They foster 
the historical sense, and are akin to movements of religious 
optimism. Such tendencies, indeed, were actually strength- 
ened by the revival of Heraclitism that took place in the 
age of Romance. But the same capacity and habit of 
mind produce a contrary effect. They are inimical to 
authority in that they forbid the formation of one-sided 
judgments. Dogmatism in laws and institutions is entirely 
incompatible with a high-strung versatility and flexibility 
of thought. A moment's reflection will make this clear. 
Heraclitus assumed a state of universal flux. Each single 
phenomenon in his theory was a link in the chain of 
causality, a transitory phase of evolution, and it would 
obviously have been impossible for him to bend the knee 
to an isolated product of the incessant series of trans- 
formations, as though it were eternal and immune. 

We may justly assert that Heraclitism is conservative, 
since it discerns the positive side in things negative ; it is 
revolutionary, since it descries the negative side in things 
positive. It recognizes nothing absolute either in good or 


in evil ; therefore there is nothing that it unconditionally 
rejects, nothing, too, that it unconditionally accepts. This 
habit of relative judgments brings historical justice in its 
train, but it prevents the acquiescence in any state of things 
as final. The doctrines of Heraclitus have been fruitful 
even till our own times, but from these recent manifestations 
of his influence we must revert to its sources. The names 
of Pythagoras and Xenophanes have occurred more than 
once in our mention of the men who exerted an influence 
on Heraclitus, and Pythagoras and Xenophanes themselves 
were not without their precursors. The vivid intellectual 
life of these centuries flowed in so many streams parallel 
or partly identical with one another, that it is hardly 
possible to keep our eyes fixed on one without temporarily 
losing sight of others which are of no less importance. 
Hence we may fitly sound a retreat at this point, and 
pick up what we may have neglected too long. 



I. MUST it be said that the courtly epic poetry, with its 
enlightened traits, with its delight at times its frivolous 
delight in the pleasures of this world, brought about a kind 
of reaction, or was it merely that, as the lower classes rose 
to power and prosperity, their views of life the views of 
the bourgeois and the peasant usurped the determining 
place? Be that as it may, the religion and morality of 
post-Homeric Greece wear a thoroughly altered aspect. 
Solemn, gloomy, and dismal features begin to predominate. 
We hear for the first time of the expiation of murder, the 
worship of souls, and the sacrifices to the dead, or where 
such customs were formerly the exception they now 
become the rule. The many essential points of likeness 
between these observances and opinions and those 
which obtained among kindred peoples, especially among 
the nations of Italy, as the most closely allied to the 
Greeks, show us that we are not dealing with wholly 
new ideas, but rather, to a considerable extent at least, 
with the revival or the first visible appearance of an 
immemorial tradition. There is one reservation to be 
made. The doctrine of immortality undoubtedly under- 
went a progressive transformation, and its serious influence 
on the development of Greek speculation compels us to 
discuss it at greater length. 

Men's thoughts have always been busy with images 
of the next world, though the shapes and colours it 
assumes vary with national moods and circumstances. At 


first the future would be conceived as the mere continua- 
tion of the present. The happy looked forward to it with 
joy, the heavily-laden with fear. Princes and nobles 
viewed the next world as a kind of limitless vista of the 
pleasures of the chase and the table ; serfs and slaves 
discerned in it an unending chain of hard and exacting 
duties. Still, the uncertainty which is inseparable from 
the future, left an ample field for the tremors of anxiety 
as well as for the flights of hope. For, if the wish is 
father to the thought, care may be called its mother, and 
their offspring show in varying proportions the features 
of both their parents. If a man's lot on earth has been 
running over with pleasure, he will readily conceive the 
future as a pale and shadowy reflection of his mortal 
experience ; if such experience has left him a wide 
margin for wishes and longings, then fancy will dip her 
brush in the rosy colours of hope ; finally, excess of 
suffering, and the habit of sufferance it engenders, blunt 
the edge of hope as well as that of desire, and imagina- 
tion is left to exercise its skill on purely joyless pictures 
of the future. And to outward conditions must be 
added the differences of national temperament. But, 
speaking generally, and confining our attention to the 
factors already enumerated, the conception of the future 
may be taken as resembling the actual present ; its 
lights and shades will be distributed according to the 
idiosyncrasies we have mentioned. Nevertheless, it is not 
hard to conjecture at what points in the course of time 
imagination will have burst those bonds. The key to the 
departure is to be sought in that theory of the next world 
which may be described in one word as the retributive. It 
is a doctrine which rested in the first instance on the fact 
of common observation that a man's moral and mental 
qualities determine to a great extent his lot. Power and 
fortune in this life are apt to favour the brave, the strong, 
the circumspect, the resolute; and hence, by an obvious 
inference, or by the mere association of ideas, he expects 
the same fate to attend him in the life to come. Another 
factor must be looked for in the likes and dislikes of the 
VOL. X. Q. 


gods. Clearly the favourites of the gods, and especially 
their descendants, must preserve in the next world the 
advantages gained in this over persons bound by no such 
tie to the rulers of human destiny. And if prayer and 
sacrifice can win the good-will of heaven, there is plainly 
no reason to suppose that the liking thus bestowed will 
lose its efficacy under the conditions of future existence. 
This, then, is the sum of the matter. As state and society 
grow, the mighty forces of nature acquire a moral signi- 
ficance; they are ranged with the family gods as the 
guardians and defenders of human laws and institutions, 
and this process gives rise to the thought though it ripens 
but late and slowly that the sceptre of heavenly justice 
is bound by no earthly confines, but that even beyond 
the limits of this life it is strong to pursue and overtake 
with the reward of righteousness and the punishment 
of wrongdoing. 

In reviewing the development of Greece we are 
confronted with some of these phases. An age or a 
sphere of life drowned in immoderate passions and 
drenched In incessant conflicts, affording ample employ- 
ment for the complete scale of human sensibility, is as 
ill-adapted for dreaming of futurity as for repining at the 
days that are no more. The active and actual hour 
absorbs the distant future no less than the distant past, 
and Homer's heroes, in their rare intervals of repose when 
war and fighting were laid aside, would beguile their 
leisure by descriptions of battles and adventures their 
own, their ancestors', or their gods', whom they conceived 
so completely in their own likeness. No one envied the 
inhabitants of Hades their nerveless, noiseless existence. 
The warrior of Troy asked nothing better than to walk in 
the light of the sun. Achilles would rather endure a poor 
journeyman's humble lot on earth than reign as a monarch 
among the shades. Even if one of the warriors should 
be exalted by the gods to a share in heavenly bliss, such 
a distinction was a purely personal affair ; it was not the 
reward of glorious action, nor was its recipient therefore 
superior to any of his less-favoured fellows, The instance 


of Menelaus is a case in point. It was otherwise in 
Hesiod's time, or rather in the classes of people to whom 
his writings were addressed. These were confronted with 
a gloomy present, and imagination was bound to supply 
the missing happiness and brightness by embellishing the 
past as well as the future. They fondly looked back at 
a long-vanished " Golden Age ; " the gradual deterioration 
of man's lot on earth was stated by them as a fact, and it 
became a problem whose solution was a constant puzzle 
to the thoughtful. The state of the souls after death 
was frequently taken as glorified. The dead were often 
promoted to spirits who watched over the destinies of the 
living. The " Elysian Fields " and the " Fortunate Islands " 
began to fill with inhabitants. But with all this there 
was no dogmatic precision ; the whole range of these ideas 
was vague, vacillating, misty, and it remained so for some 
time. Homer, it is true, shows traces of a germ of the 
retributive doctrine, in the torments of hell that overtook 
certain irrepressible wrongdoers and " enemies of the gods ; " 
but many centuries were still to elapse before the seed 
came to flower. Tantalus and Sisyphus in agony are 
succeeded by Ixion and Thamyras ; but apart from the 
penalties exacted in Tartarus for exceptional insolence 
against the gods, the average lot of humanity in the next 
world was still regarded as completely independent of 
moral feelings and deserts. And above all, though the 
radiance of eternity might be stained by many shafts 
of colour, yet the state religion as the final expression 
of the conscience of the ruling classes, took but slight 
account of the belief in immortality. Antiquity so far, 
at least, as its public religious systems are a guide to its 
thoughts and desires was intent on this side of the 

We have been speaking of the main current of 
religious life. It should not be forgotten, however, that 
cross-currents and under-currents were at work which 
gradually gained in strength, though liable to temporary 
shallows, till they grew to a mighty stream hollowing its 
greedy course through the very heart of Hellenic religion. 


One feature was common to all. The worshippers of the 
Mysteries and the disciples of Orphic Pythagoreanism 
were moved alike by a heightened interest in the future 
of the soul, based in the first instance on their disdain 
for earthly life, and resting ultimately on the gloomy view 
which they took of it. 

2. The Orphic doctrines called after Orpheus, the 
legendary minstrel of Thrace, whose name was attributed 
to all the sacred books of those sects have come down 
to us in various recensions widely differing in parts from 
one another. Our fullest source of information dates 
from the evening of antiquity when Plato's latest heirs, 
the so-called Neo-Platonists, were delighted to revert to 
teachings so acceptable and congenial to their own. They 
introduced in their writings frequent references to the 
Orphic poems, and quoted directly from them. Now, 
when we remember that the Orphic doctrine is not a 
homogeneous whole, but is the compilation of diverse 
hands in various epochs of history, it is not surprising 
that the evidence of these late witnesses should have been 
received with suspicious scrutiny. It would appear at 
first sight a sound principle of criticism to discredit all 
evidence of this kind except for the age of its origin. 
But some of the most recent discoveries have afforded a 
striking proof of the will-o'-the-wisp character of such 
critical lights. In the tombs of Lower Italy, for example, 
dating from the third century B.C., which have lately been 
opened, gold plates have been found inscribed with Orphic 
verses formerly known to us merely by a reference in 
Proclus, a Neo-Platonist of the fifth century A.D. Thus 
seven hundred years were added at a stroke to their 
presumptive antiquity. Similarly Phanes, one of the 
most important figures of Orphic worship, was vouched 
for by no writer earlier than the Augustan historian 
Diodorus, till we found his name invoked on another of 
these tablets of Thurii. Criticism has thus been exposed 
as hypercriticism in these instances, and the excess of 
cautious foresight as a defect of sound insight. It is 
wiser on the whole to allow a fair margin for errors in 


detail than to shut out the view into the inter-connection 
of these doctrines by the obstructive use of the principle 
not wholly unreasonable in itself which would limit 
the validity of each piece of evidence to the age to which 
it indubitably belongs. The new criticism, too, has tried 
to compensate for the absence of direct testimony by 
carefully sorting and comparing such hints and allusions 
as occur. 

Let us first try to focus the intellectual endowment of 
the men whom Aristotle calls the " theologians," and whom 
we may perhaps describe as the right wing of the oldest 
group of Greek thinkers. Their mind was less scientific 
than that of the " physiologists." They made a far keener 
demand for a vivid representation of the origin and develop- 
ment of the world. The common mythology of the 
Hellenes did not fully satisfy them, partly because it was 
at variance with their standard of morality, partly because 
it answered the questions of cause and descent in too 
vague or too crude a fashion. Still, their original specu- 
lations were quite rudimentaiy. But they could not remain 
so. The demand for mythological completeness was still 
too strong to be neglected. The blank spaces had to 
be filled up, and they were filled up by traditions from 
other sources. There was an eager hunt for such adjuncts, 
and where were they more likely to be found than in 
isolated local legends, in the records of foreign peoples, 
and especially in those of nations with a halo of imme- 
morial civilization ? These three elements original cos- 
mogonic speculation, the local legends of Greece, and 
the complementary traditions of foreign people would 
constitute the threads on which the new learning was 
strung. That such was really the fact may be gathered 
from a glance at the contents, and above all at the character, 
of the Orphic and allied doctrines. The admixture is clearly 
seen in the theory of origin propounded by Pherecydes 
of Syros. We place him at the head, not by any means 
because he is the oldest, but because he is the first repre- 
sentative of this movement whose date can be fixed with 
well-nigh absolute certainty, About the middle of the 


sixth century B.C., he published a prose composition 
under the title of Pentemychos, out of which some 
verbatim quotations have come down to our times. He 
was influenced by older co-religionists, one of whom, the 
poet Onomacritus, is known to us by name. He lived at 
the court of Pisistratus, tyrant of Athens, where he founded 
an Orphic community, though how far he was the disciple 
and prophet of the Orphic doctrines we are hardly able 
to say. Pherecydes was further devoted to astronomical 
research. He probably borrowed the principles of the 
science from Babylon, and his observatory was for a long 
time one of the sights which were shown to visitors to 
Syros. As a philosopher, then, he recognized three pri- 
mordial beings Chronos, or the Time-principle; Zeus, 
whom he called Zas ; and Chthonie, the goddess of earth. 
The variant " Zas " was doubtless connected with that 
signification of the name which we have already met in 
Heraclitus, and which sought to represent the chief of 
the gods as the highest principle of life. From the seed 
of Chronos sprang " Fire, Air, and Water," and from 
these again "many generations of the gods." In later 
and therefore possibly contaminated traditions "we come 
across two more elements under the names of "Smoke" 
and " Darkness ; " and thus the quintett of first principles 
alluded to in the title of Pherecydes* work is completed. 
Each was originally supposed to inhabit a separate region 
of the world. But a battle of the gods broke out in which 
Ophioneus, the serpent-god, and his followers attacked 
Chronos and his attendant deities. The struggle closed 
with the disappearance of one set of combatants in the 
sea, which figures in Pherecydes as " Ogenos," presumably 
a Babylonian name corresponding to the Greek Okeanos. 
Some further features of his cosmology may be noted. 
Zas, or Zeus, is transformed as the creator of the world 
into the Love-god Eros; next he fashions "a mighty 
and beautiful garment wherein are inwrought the pictures 
of Earth and Ogenos and his habitations," and this garment 
he spreads over "the winged oak;" lastly, "beneath the 
Earth is the region of Tartarus guarded by the Harpies 


and Thyella, the daughters of Boreas, whither a god who 
sins by overweening pride is ever hurled by Zas." Add 
to this that Chthonie changes her name to Ge "after Zas 
had given her the earth as her portion," and that Rhea 
the mother of the gods is called Rhe, perhaps to counter- 
balance Ge, and our account of Pherecydes* teachings about 
the gods and the world is complete as far as we know it. 
It is a wonderful mixture of a little science, a bit of 
allegory, and a lump of mythology. Let us try to find 
our bearings in the maze of speculation. Our thinker is 
at one with the "physiologists" in his recognition of first 
principles dating from eternity, and in his endeavour to 
derive the manifold forms of the material world from a 
few fundamental elements. Another and very characteristic 
point of agreement is this, that he represents the bulk of 
the minor gods as proceeding from those material elements. 
But he parts company from them in the following details : 
He does not go as far as the " physiologists " in the 
reduction of matter, so as to recognize a single funda- 
mental element. If we understand him correctly, he does 
not even refer to air as an independent element. But, 
above all, his elements are not primeval. Primary beings 
take their place in that respect, and are not conceived as 
coarsely material. From them the material elements are 
supposed to spring. This mode of origin is specified 
merely of the three elements operating in the upper 
world. Still, the parallelism in his account seems to 
warrant the assumption that the two materials belonging 
to the region of Darkness our acquaintance with which 
is solely due to chance references in S. Augustine are 
likewise to be traced to the serpent-god presiding in the 
under-world. It is tempting to speak in this connection 
of the middle place taken by our " theologian " between 
Hesiod on the one side and the nature-philosophers on 
the other. But this would not be an exhaustive account 
of the matter. The chief parts in the " Theogony " apart 
from certain divine principles are sustained by natural 
agents conceived as possessing souls, such as the "broad- 
bosomed Earth," the "wide heaven," and many others. 


In the instance of Pherecydes, it is no longer legitimate to 
speak of natural fetishes. Zas and Chronos appear rather 
as spiritual beings, and Chthonie is expressly distinguished 
from " Earth," whose name the goddess does not bear till 
she has received the material earth from the hands of Zas. 
We may imagine Pherecydes stating, "The earth-spirit 
precedes the earth and is joined later with the earth as the 
soul is with the body." Here there is foreshadowed a 
mode of thought which has no little bearing on the 
conception of body and soul, characteristic of the 
Orphics, strictly so called, as well as of Pherecydes 

We have noted the statement that a battle of the gods 
preceded the final disposition of the world, and we meet it 
so frequently in Greek and non-Greek mythologies alike, 
that it is not surprising to find it again in Pherecydes. A 
twofold consideration probably lies at the root of this wide- 
spread belief, and its obvious connection with the thought 
of primitive man makes it not l un worthy of mention. He 
could hardly have looked on the rule of law as an imme- 
morial fact, for he ascribed to the powers whom he postu- 
lated behind the visible world a will and passions as strong 
and as unbridled as belonged to the superior members of 
human society the sole society which he knew, and which 
was far removed from discipline and law. And if, thus, 
primitive man must have held that the regularity which he 
observed in natural phenomena was the arbitrary law imposed 
by the victors on the vanquished, this presumption would 
be strengthened by the fact that the most powerful factors 
in nature are, comparatively speaking, but seldom in the 
exercise of their full force. Earthquakes, tempests, and 
active volcanoes form but rare and short interruptions of the 
prevalent peace of nature. This state of things, men would 
argue, could not have dated from everlasting. The terrible 
powers inimical to man must at one time have reigned 
unmolested. Yet mightier powers must then have engaged 
them in conflict, and their ultimate defeat in that struggle 
would account for the restricted limits of their sway. The 
more closely we examine the features of the battle of the 


gods according to the version of Pherecydes, the more we 
are reminded in many details of Babylonian cosmology. 
Eminent scholars, indeed, incline to the theory of plagiar- 
ism. Further, when Zas transforms himself into the god 
of love to assist his creation of the world, we have not far 
to look to discover the source of this legend. Hesiod has 
already familiarized us with the thought borrowed from 
organic life and extended by a process of generalization, 
that it is the procreative instinct alone which unites con- 
genial elements and warrants the continuity of existing 
orders and races. And the Hesiodic account is set in such 
rigid lines that we perceive that the theory must have 
flourished long before he adopted it. We must probably 
look to the worship of the love-god in some ancient sanctu- 
aries that of Thespise in Bceotia, for instance for the 
home of the mythical speculation touching the "love that 
built the world." And, finally, we may fairly conjecture that 
the garment spread by Zas over the winged oak was merely 
a pictorial expression of the belief that the kernel or 
framework of earth was adorned by this first principle of 
life with the beauty that it now wears. Moreover, there 
is considerable plausibility in the recent conjecture that 
Pherecydes attributed wings to the framework of earth 
because he had rejected the disc-and-basin theory of earth 
which Thales maintained in favour of Anaximander's con- 
ception of the earth floating freely in space. Lastly, it is 
not so much the detailed doctrines of the " theologian " of 
Syros that vex our understanding as the habit of mind 
from which they directly sprang, and which wavered so 
strangely between science and myth. We have no reason 
to question the earnest enthusiasm by which Pherecydes 
was inspired, nor is his memory sullied by any trace of 
miracle- mongery. Accordingly, the problem he presents 
is difficult to solve. He offers a minute description of the 
origin of the gods and the world, and yet he was no poet ; 
he assumes the confidence of the orthodox believer, and 
yet he was a stranger to the " fine frenzy " of inspiration 
in which the secrets of the universe are revealed. We at 
least can suggest no other solution of the riddle than 


that alluded to above. Pherecydes may have owed some 
features of his doctrine, especially in his theory of the 
elements, to his own speculative thought ; some other 
features, as we have seen, he borrowed from the researches 
of his predecessors ; but the brilliant picture as a whole 
cannot have been composed by either of these methods. 
It was indebted to native and foreign traditions alike. 
The philosopher believed them because they agreed in 
principle with his own conclusions, and on that account he 
turned, changed, and fused them with a licence which he 
himself failed to realize. Nothing is at once so difficult 
and so indispensable to our task as to frame a conception 
of the imperfect state of criticism at that day. Many 
separate legends it did away with altogether. Others which 
rested on precisely the same foundation it adopted with 
complete faith, so that its attitude towards tradition in 
general, so far from being systematic, was of the kind 
which naively expected to discover a key to the deepest 
secrets of the universe in the names and fables of individual 
gods. Pherecydes, then, may be regarded as one of the 
earliest representatives of that half-critical, half-credulous 
eclecticism which serves to typify so many thinkers of 
other peoples and times. 

3. The life and teaching of the founder of the Orphic 
sect were subject to the same disadvantage which we meet 
in other religious communities. Diverse and contradic- 
tory reports accompanied or succeeded one another. In 
our opinion it would be wholly as illegitimate to speak 
of "forgery" or "apocryphal" writings in this connection 
as in that of the second covenant of Moses in the Old 
Testament, or of the doctrine of the Logos in the New. 
Thus the Orphic theory of cosmogony appears in various 
recensions whose consecution in time it is impossible to 
fix with certainty. And we may even assume that several 
of them were current at the same time without supposing 
that their readers were more repelled by the contradictions 
they contained than the students of other holy writings. 
Four such versions or fragments of them have come down 
to our time, (i) We owe one of these versions to Eudemus, 


the historian of science and disciple of Aristotle. Unfortu- 
nately, his account has dwindled down to little more than 
the bare mention that Night in Pherecydes was the supreme 
primary being. The conception is interesting as reminding 
us of the Homeric verse which relates how Zeus was re- 
frained from acting contrary to Night, where we see the faint 
gleam of the belief that Night was superior even to the father 
of the gods. The Maoris, too, recognize " a first mother, 
Night," and the doctrine comes to frequent expression in 
the cosmogony of the Greeks themselves. It plays the chief 
part in the legendary Musaeus no less than in Epimenides 
the seer, in Acusilaus the fabulist, as well as in a fourth 
writer whose name is unknown. (2) We need hardly 
mention the second version, which consists of a dozen 
verses describing the origin of the world put by Apollonius, 
the Alexandrian poet, in his " Argonautica " into the mouth 
of Orpheus. For while it makes no claim to historical 
value, its contents would wholly disqualify it from making 
good such a claim. The principle of "Discord," which 
here divides the four elements, is taken, with the elements 
themselves, from the young nature-philosopher Empedocles. 
Next the battle of the gods is described in partial agree- 
ment with Pherecydes, and the slight departures that are 
made do not create an impression of any greater faithfulness 
to tradition. Pherecydes, for instance, makes Ophioneus and 
Chronos fight for the mastery and gives the upper world to 
the victor and the under world to the vanquished as their 
habitation and empire. In Apollonius, however, we find 
Ophioneus in possession of Olympus, and as serpent-beings 
belong by nature and accordingly by myth to the region 
of earth, we cannot but recognize here a further divagation 
from the original form of the legend, and an artificial 
continuation of it. (3) Nor need the third version delay 
us long. It is expressly stated by its authorities to be 
opposed to the current Orphic doctrine, and its distinctive 
features, which rest on the evidence of Hieronymus and 
Hellanicus, witnesses of doubtful date and personality, are 
by no means such as to warrant a respectable antiquity. (4) It 
is completely otherwise with the fourth and last version of 


Orphic theogony and cosmogony, which was formerly con- 
tained in the so-called " Rhapsodies." Modern scholarship, 
following the masterly lead of Christian August Lobeck, has 
found clear evidence that it was known to the poets and 
thinkers of the sixth century B.C., and was employed by them ; 
and the arguments hitherto and still levelled against this 
claim to antiquity have been shown to be completely in- 
valid. This controversy involves some important questions 
of principle, and we cannot altogether avoid it. First, how- 
ever, we should enumerate the chief contents of this theory 
of cosmogony. As in Pherecydes, Chronos or the Time- 
principle stands once more at its head. It existed from 
eternity, whereas Light-stuff or Fire-Stuff, under the name 
of ^Ether, and the "huge gulf" under the name of Chaos, 
came next into existence. Then " mighty Chronos " formed 
" a silver egg " out of ^Ether and Chaos with its contents 
of "dark mist" From the "egg" sprang the first-born 
of the gods, who is variously known as Phanes the shining 
one, Eros the love-god, Metis or counsel, and Ericapaeus, 
a name which has not yet been interpreted. As the reposi- 
tory of all the seeds of being, Phanes was at once male and 
female, and produced spontaneously Night and Echidna, a 
horrible serpent-deity, and with Night Uranus and Gaia, 
heaven and earth, the progenitors of the "secondary race" 
of the gods. We shall not dwell on the Titans, Giants, 
Moirse, and the Hecatonchires, for the account given of 
them in the Orphic theogony differs hardly at all from 
that of Hesiod. Further, Chronos and Rhea belong to the 
secondary generation of gods. But their son "Zeus, at 
once head and centre and author of all things," " Zeus the 
cause of the earth and of the star-sown heaven," swallows 
Phanes, and thus becomes the universal progenitor in his 
turn, and the father of the third and youngest race of the 
gods and of the whole visible world. 

We have now to try to master the fundamental principle 
of this theory, to acquaint ourselves with its peculiar 
characteristics, to discover as far as possible its historical 
sources, and thus to contribute our share to the solu- 
tion of the problem mentioned above, The impression 


forces itself on our belief that the separate parts of this 
cosmogony are not fully homogeneous, but have been 
gradually fused into a complete whole. For it seems, 
if not in actual contradiction, at least alien to the nature 
of myths that ^Ether, the element of light and fire, should 
appear at an earlier stage of the cosmic process than 
Phanes, whose name signifies "shining," and who is 
represented as the first-born of the gods. Mythology 
always aims at strong effects, and has no taste for anti- 
climax. We are thus led to imagine that two streams of 
speculative myth-making have here mingled their waters ; 
the one would display more naturalistic features, and the 
other would allow for the creative activity of proper god- 
like beings. If we look for the actual thought which 
found its mythical expression in the first part of that 
cosmogony, we should cast it somewhat in this form : 
As a plant unfolds and grows under the animating rays of 
the sun, so "the world was formed in course of time out 
of the matter floating darkly in space under the influence 
of light and heat." A second and essentially different 
thought may be expressed as follows: "A divine being 
of light sprang, in order to create the world, out of the 
original shapeless darkness." In the passages of Orphic 
poetry where Phanes is designated as "the son of 
resplendent ./Ether" we find a link between these two 
views. Similarly, the fable of the world-egg would seem 
no longer to confront us in its original form. It must 
obviously have been first invented by some such argument 
as this : The world is alive, and it must have had a 
beginning. Its origin, continued the argument, must be 
like that of a living being ; and then the round vault of 
heaven reminded the authors of this argument of the 
shape of an egg. Such an egg, they inferred, would once 
have existed, and when it burst, its upper portion went to 
form the dome of the sky, the lower part engendered the 
earth and all that is therein. We are by no means com- 
mitted to the belief that the transformation of the fable 
of the' world-egg took place on the soil of Greece. It is, 
indeed, a world-wide myth. It is found not merely 


among the Greeks, the Persians, and the Indians, but 
these share it in common with Phoenicia, Babylon, and 
with Egypt, where, indeed, it appears in precisely the 
same form as in the Orphic cosmogony. We may quote, 
for instance, the following Egyptian account of the creation 
of the world : 

" In the beginning was neither heaven nor earth. The universe 
was surrounded by thick darkness, and was filled with boundless 
water [known to the Egyptians as Nun] which carried in its lap 
the germs of male and female, or the beginnings of the future 
world. The divine First Spirit, inseparable from the watery First 
Matter, felt an impulse to create activity, and his word called the 
world into life. . , . The first act of creation began with the 
formation of an egg out of the elemental waters, and from the egg 
went forth R, the Daylight, the direct source of earthly life." 

In another version and it may not be useless to notice 
the variations of the legend in the valley of the Nile 
it was the "god Ptah who, according to his worshippers, 
turned the egg, from which the world issued, like a potter 
on his wheel." It will u not have escaped the attentive 
reader that in the male and female germs mentioned in 
the Egyptian fable a parallel is found to the Light-god 
of the Orphic legend who creates the world and whose 
nature combines both male and female attributes. We 
are yet more strongly reminded by the twofold nature of 
Phanes of the epicene godheads who occur by no means 
infrequently in the Babylonian Pantheon. Add to this 
that, according to the unimpeachable testimony of Eudemus, 
the Phoenician cosmogony reproduces the Time-principle 
that stands at the head of our cosmogony, not to speak of 
the Persian Avesta, where it appears as Zrvan Akarana or 
boundless time, and our readers will have been suffi- 
ciently familiarized with the thought that foreign traditions 
exercised no inconsiderable influence on the origin of the 
Orphic doctrine. The centre from which these lights radi- 
ated may almost certainly be identified with the country 
which was not merely one of the oldest homes, but practically 
the cradle of human civilization ; it was the country ruled by 


Babylon and situated between the Euphrates and the Tigris. 
In stating this conviction, we are prepared to encounter 
opposition. We shall draw on our heads the bitter con- 
tempt of many worthy antiquarians who would regard it 
as derogatory to the Greeks to send them to school among 
older civilized nations, and to assume them to have bor- 
rowed thence the sources of their knowledge and belief. 
But the narrow-minded obstinacy which would rigidly 
isolate the Greeks and withdraw them from the influence 
of other and older civilizations, cannot possibly be main- 
tained in the face of the evidence which is constantly 
presented with stronger and clearer force. To-day hardly 
any one attempts to deny that the Greeks owe to the 
Orient the elements of material civilization as well as the 
beginnings of their art, though a score of years ago this pro- 
position was disputed with equal confidence and vehemence. 
The same views would be valid in the spheres of science and 
religion if their acceptation had not been checked by the 
hasty, partial, and unsystematic efforts of previous genera- 
tions. But here, too, the opposition must finally be van- 
quished. Though it is led by men as illustrious as Lobeck, 
whom we have mentioned above, yet it must ultimately yield 
to the unprejudiced and universal appreciation of historical 
facts. At this point a question might be asked as to the 
means by which religious and speculative views were trans- 
ferred from the older nations to Greece, and the problem re- 
calls a striking parallel from the literary history of mediaeval 
Europe. Practically the entire fairy-lore of the Occident 
is derived from India. No one disputes this assertion 
to-day, but no one as yet can give a completely clear 
account of the ways and means by which its journey was 
accomplished. The Greeks, as we have seen, came at an 
early time into frequent and intimate contact with foreign 
peoples as soldiers and merchants, as adventurous seamen 
and warlike settlers. They would meet in the camp, at 
the bazaar, and in the caravanserai. They would exchange 
ideas on the starlit decks of merchant vessels or in the 
intimate darkness of the nuptial chamber when a Greek 
settler took a native as his bride, and it is likely enough 


that their confidences on such occasions would have ranged 
from earth to heaven. Other circumstances, too, contributed 
to the welcome extended to foreign doctrines of religion. 
From them the Greek had already borrowed several of his 
gods and heroes, such as the Semitic Astoreth (Afthoret or 
Aphrodite), and Adonis her lover, and later the Thracian 
Bendis and the Phrygian Cybele ; and as his ancient native 
traditions failed more and more to satisfy his increasing 
curiosity and thirst for knowledge, foreign sources would be 
drawn on more freely in an age of acute intellectual vigour 
and progress. Moreover, national pride was no great op- 
posing force* The Greeks were always ready to recognize 
their own gods in those of other nations, and to reconcile 
contradictions between native and foreign traditions by their 
nimble and pliant genius for adaptation. This process, 
which was developed to a remarkable degree, is admirably 
illustrated by many amusing instances in Herodotus. To 
revert to Babylon and its central and important position 
in the history of religion, the striking results of modern 
research may be summarized quite briefly. A few years 
ago the present writer was desirous of establishing the 
possibility of the transference of religious doctrines from 
Mesopotamia to Egypt. To that end he was at pains to 
collect a mass of evidence directed to prove the early and 
active intercourse of the inhabitants of both countries. 
This evidence may now be cheerfully committed to the 
waste-paper basket, since it has been more than confirmed 
by the splendid .discoveries of a yet later date. I refer to 
the cuneiform archive found at El-Amarna in Egypt, which 
contains a diplomatic correspondence between the monarchs 
of both empires written about fifteen hundred years B.C. 
Nor is its interest exhausted by its contents. In conjunc- 
tion with the latest finds at Lachish in Palestine, it shows 
us that the language and writing of Babylon were a current 
means of intercourse in wide regions of Western Asia ; that 
they found exact scholars in Egypt itself; that, finally, to 
the confusion of the incredulous, the Egyptians took suffi- 
cient interest in the religious traditions of Babylon, to 
transcribe some of them from the brick libraries of 


Mesopotamian sanctuaries, where they had lain since hoary 
antiquity. Further, to prove that India was likewise not 
unaffected by the influence of that centre of civilization, 
we may cite a single significant word which was borrowed 
from Babylon. The term "Mine" as a token of weight 
occurs in the hymns of the Rig- Veda. The lands of the 
Euphrates and Tigris, and those of the Indus and Ganges, 
stood of old in reciprocal relations of culture, and the 
addition of important evidence to this effect will, we trust, 
be presently published by an eminent authority. 

But after this necessary digression, let us revert to our 
subject. The swallowing of Phanes by Zeus is fashioned 
on older precedents. Chronos, for instance, swallowed 
his children, and Zeus again swallowed Metis, and Athene, 
with whom she was pregnant, then sprang from his head. 
But the use of this crude motive would appear to have 
been governed by a desire to unite a congeries of myths 
into a harmonious whole. At the root of it there obviously 
lies an older pantheistic conception of the supreme god 
bearing within him all "the force and seeds of life." 
But now that the new cosmogony ascribed the generative 
part to Phanes, or the god of light, some means had to be 
found of rescuing that dignity from " the first-born of the 
gods " on whom mythology had hastily bestowed it, and of 
conferring it in turn on the last ruler of the world as the 
final link in the long chain of the races of gods. A doubt, 
entirely baseless in our opinion, has been thrown on the 
antiquity of the Orphic doctrine on account of this pan- 
theistic current. If we recall the uncompromisingly 
pantheistic trend of the oldest nature-philosophers, or if 
we remember that before the middle of the fifth century 
^Eschylus ventured from the stage to address the assembled 
people of Athens in verses like the following : 

" Zeus is the heaven, Zeus the earth, Zeus the air, 
Zeus is the universe and all besides," 

we shall not hesitate to believe that this comparatively 
tame pantheism flourished in the sixth or even in the 
seventh century in the restricted circle of the Orphic con- 
venticles. Considerable points of agreement no less than 


of divergence result from a comparison of this theory as a 
whole with that of Pherecydes. Chronos, ^Ether, and 
Chaos correspond to Pherecydes' trinity of primary Beings 
Chronos, Zas, and Chthonie. Hesiod has already acquainted 
us with Chaos and ^Ether, but their present place and 
constitution have in some respects been changed. The 
Hesiodic Either is but one of several beings of light ; it 
ranks by no means as a favourite. Chaos, too, has altered 
its nature. It is no longer merely the symbol of the gulf 
yawning between the highest height and the lowest depth ; 
it represents a " dark mist," a mass of unorganized matter 
floating in that gulf. The Orphic ./Ether, or the light- and 
fire-stuff, is probably the animating or vivifying element 
as opposed to the inanimate mass which was refined and 
clarified by Pherecydes to Zas, the divine principle of life. 
Doubtless the same relation exists between Chaos and 
Chthonie, the spirit or godhead of the earth. So far as a 
definite statement can be made on so difficult a question, 
it may be said that the doctrine which stands philoso- 
phically halfway between Hesiod and Pherecydes belongs 
to an intermediate date. This view is supported by the 
observation that the Orphic theogony agrees with Hesiod 
in attributing a temporal origin to ^Ether and Chaos, 
whereas the thinker of Syros, in rare and almost unique 
conformity with the " physiologists," ascribes ' eternal 
existence to his three world-principles indifferently. But 
the Orphic attempts at cosmology were at the best but 
the work of children. Of far greater moment and con- 
sequence were their psychological speculations. These are 
connected with an entirely new conception of life. They 
parted company With the old Hellenism, undermining the 
beauty and harmony of the Greek view of life, and pre- 
paring the way for its final overthrow. But at this point 
the threads of the Orphic doctrine are so closely interwoven 
with the threads of another and deeper intellectual move- 
ment, that we cannot continue till we have considered this 
course of evolution aud its great author. 

( 99 ) 


" PYTHAGORAS, son of Mnesarchus, has practised research 
and inquiry more than all other men, and has made up 
his wisdom out of polymathy and out of bad arts." This 
invective of Heraclitus and another quoted by us above, 
comprise almost the sole contemporary testimony to the 
life-work of a man whom an endless train of disciples has 
lauded and admired to the utmost, and whom posterity has 
honoured like a demi-god. Pythagoras was born at Samos, 
an island famous at that time for its navigation, Its 
industry and commerce, between 580 and 570 B.C. The 
son of Mnesarchus a stonecutter, he was one of the most 
original figures in Greece, and indeed in all the world. 
As a mathematician of brilliant parts, as the founder of 
acoustics and the guide in untrodden paths of astronomy, 
as the author of a religious sect and of a brotherhood 
which admits comparison with the orders of mediaeval 
chivalry, as a man of science, a theologian, and a moral 
reformer, Pythagoras commanded a kingdom of talents 
of the most composite and sometimes of the least com- 
patible kinds. It is hard to rescue the prototype from the 
flood of tradition which increases in volume the further it 
is removed from the source. No line from his own pen 
has been preserved, and it seems well-nigh certain that he 
did not avail himself of written communication, but relied 
for his influence on his disciples on the power of the 
spoken word and the speaking example. 

According to one tradition, which is not completely 


vouched for, Pythagoras was the pupil of Pherecydes. It 
appears to be beyond doubt that he was engaged in 
distant journeys which late antiquity has exaggerated 
into a kind of Odyssey, and the various elements of 
culture which he collected in his travels formed the stones 
of his brilliant house of learning. By no other means, we 
may be confident, could he ever have satisfied his thirst 
for knowledge in an age comparatively poor in literary 
monuments, and in no other way could he have deserved 
the eulogy implied in the gibe of the sage of Ephesus. It 
would have been almost miraculous if the adept at 
mathematics had failed to visit Egypt, the cradle of that 
science, whither a century or two later a Democritus, a 
Plato, and a Eudoxus turned their steps for the same 
purpose. Moreover, it can scarcely be doubted that he 
borrowed from the priesthood of Egypt all kinds of 
practices that have ranked as distinctive features of his 
foundation. Herodotus the historian, a trustworthy 
witness in this instance, does not hesitate to speak of the 
" Orphics and Bacchics " as " Pythagoreans and Egyptians/ 1 
and he hints emphatically enough at the like origin of 
another corner-stone of Pythagoreanism the belief in the 
transmigration of souls. Whether or not Pythagoras saw 
the golden spires of Babylon, who shall say ? It is at 
least probable that the curious Greek would have visited 
this seat of immemorial civilization, and have dipped in 
its treasury of native and foreign traditions. When Samos 
was ruled by the tyrant Polycrates, Pythagoras, arrived 
at man's estate, left his island home and found in Southern 
Italy a ripe soil for his experiments in reform. His chief 
field of activity was Croton, famous at that time for its 
wholesome situation, excellent physicians, and powerful 
athletes, but fallen now into decay, with its once proud name 
transferred to the miserable fishing-village of Cortona. 
This Achaean colony had just been worsted in battle by 
luxurious Sybaris, its ancient rival ; and the humiliating 
defeat had prepared men's minds for moral, religious, 
and political innovations. The new settler took ad- 
vantage of this receptive mood for the promotioq of 


his schemes of reform. He forthwith founded his com- 
munity, which admitted both men and women in its 
fold, and recognized distinct degrees of membership ; and 
the ingenious system by which the rigours of the order 
were graduated extended its influence over wide classes 
of candidates. The fruit of the reform was a revival in 
the public spirit, manifested by a strong aristocratic 
government within the walls of the city, and by success in 
arms abroad ; and this result was not long confined to 
Croton, but extended itself to other cities in Magna 
Grsecia, such as Tarentum, Metapontum, and Caulonia. 
A reaction was bound to ensue. The cohesion of the 
aristocrats in a religious and social community with beliefs 
and observances of its own which set them apart from the 
mass of the citizens as a kind of populus in populo and 
rendered them haughtier and less accessible than ever, 
could not but increase the bitterness of the existing battle 
of the classes. The clamour for further political rights 
rose to a higher pitch ; the outcry against the foreign 
intruder and his new-fangled notions grew louder, and to 
these manifestations was added the personal resentment 
of unsuccessful candidates for admittance to the brother- 
hood. So the Pythagorean community in Croton was 
doomed. A catastrophe as horrible as that which destroyed 
the Knights Templar overtook it about 500 B.C., when its 
members were burnt alive, presumably in their place of 
assembly. The accounts are too vague to enable us to 
decide whether Pythagoras himself was a victim, or whether 
he had died at an earlier date. A similar fate overtook 
the branches of the order. True, there were always 
disciples of Pythagorism, but the Pythagoreans as a 
community were destroyed. In Greece itself the last 
adherents of the school lingered on in Boeotia, where the 
ffreat Epamipondas received instruction from its members. 
Others again went to Athens and began the fusion of 
Pythagorean doctrines with those of other schools of 
philosophy, among which that of Socrates was the foremost. 
Finally, Pythagorism dissolved into those constituent ele- 
ments compressed by the force of one great genius 


into the limits of a system which was anything but homo- 
geneous. The positive science of the doctrine and its 
mathematical and physical methods fell to the care of 
specialists, while its religious and superstitious maxims 
and practices were preserved in Orphic circles. 

2. The claim to immortality which this school may 
advance rests on its contributions to science. We reverently 
do homage to the genius of the men who first showed the 
way to a thorough comprehension of the forces of nature 
and to their final mastery. And here we must pause to 
make a remark of more universal import. The ancients 
and moderns have both, with partial correctness, reproached 
the Pythagoreans with a want of sobriety and a caprice of 
imagination. But it is a pleasure to be able to point out 
that this play of fancy and emotion, and the corresponding 
delight in what is beautiful and harmonious, though they 
occasionally obstructed the path of scientific research, yet 
in many decisive instances smoothed the obstacles away 
and lent wings to inquiry. Pythagoras was always passion- 
ately devoted to music, an art to which his disciples ever 
gave the chief place among the means for exciting and 
appeasing the emotions. And without this kind of artistic 
delight he would certainly never have attained his insight 
into the dependence of the pitch of sound on the length 
of the vibrating chord, which ranks as his greatest and 
most important discovery. The monochord which he used 
for his experiments in the physics of sound, " consisted of 
a string stretched over a resounding-board with a move- 
able bridge, by means of which it was possible to divide 
the string into different lengths, and thus to produce the 
various high and low notes on one and the same string." 
Great was the surprise of the inquirer, well versed as he 
was both in mathematics and music, when this simple 
experiment revealed at a single stroke the most wonderful 
operations of law in a field hitherto completely closed to 
scientific investigation. He was still unable to determine 
the vibrations on which the separate sounds depended, 
but inasmuch as he could now measure the vibrating chord 
which was the material cause that produced the sound, 


rule and law and spatial quantity were thus imposed on 
something that had hitherto been wholly Intangible, unde- 
finable, and almost of another world. The history of 
science contains no luckier hit than this. In other 
departments of nature, such as those of dynamics, the 
underlying laws are hidden away from the eye of the 
spectator, and can only be reached by extremely artificial 
contrivances. Here, however, the simplest conceivable 
experiment sufficed to bring to light a great regulative 
principle embracing a wide domain of nature. The 
intervals between the sounds the fourth, the fifth, the 
octave, and so forth which had hitherto solely been per- 
ceptible to the fine ear of the professional musician, but 
which could neither be communicated to others nor referred 
to comprehensible causes, were now reduced to clear and 
fixed numerical relations. And as soon as the foundations 
had been laid for the mechanics of sound, all other systems 
of mechanics might seem to be open to investigation. 
Great was the delight aroused by this wonderful discovery, 
and we can hardly be surprised if the further speculations 
of the Pythagoreans transgressed the bounds of moderation. 
The brilliance and obscurity of their doctrine lie within a 
step of one another, and we reach at once the Pythagorean 
mysticism of number, which strikes us at first sight as 
opposed to reason and understanding. Sound, one of the 
most volatile of phenomena, had been shown to be measur- 
able in space. But number is the measure of all space ; 
it is the expression of the regularity so suddenly observed 
to pervade every department of nature, and it was an easy 
inference to regard it as the heart and essence of things. 
It reminds us of the Ionian "physiologists" with their 
contradictory and therefore fruitless attempts to discover 
the single primary matter which underlay and survived all 
change. The theories of Thales and Anaximander could not 
give lasting satisfaction, but their common desire to discover 
the fixed pole in the flight of phenomena could not but 
survive the failure of their several experiments. Then 
came Pythagoras and his disciples. Their astonished eyes 
were suddenly opened to the suggestive spectacle of a 


universal uniformity ruling nature and dependent on num- 
bers. What wonder if the material principle was temporarily 
eclipsed by the formal, masquerading as quasi-material? 
The question of a primary principle was dropped for a time, 
or rather it appeared in another shape. Fire and Air, and 
Anaximander's "infinite," comprising all material con- 
traries, were deposed as the Principle of the world, and 
the vacant throne was taken by Number as the expression 
of universal law. We have just now marked the historical 
explanation of this view, which, in defiance of the natural 
order of things, regarded Number as their most intimate 
essence, and not merely as the expression of relations and 
proportions. We may now reach the same goal from 
another point of departure. In the researches undertaken 
by this school the quality of matter is of considerably less 
account than the forms which it wears in space. But here 
the growing habit of abstract thought led the philosopher 
to regard a conception as more primordial and valuable, 
according as it was more refined and further removed from 
concrete reality. We possess the faculty of dissociating in 
our minds the body itself from the planes in which it lies, 
and the planes from the lines that bound them ; or, to put 
it more accurately, we can temporarily make abstraction of 
the corporeal and superficial areas, and regard the planes 
and lines as things existing by themselves. These abstrac- 
tions, as Aristotle expressly tells us, were accorded by the 
Pythagoreans, not merely complete reality, but actually a 
higher reality than the concrete objects from which they 
were derived. The planes, they argued, are conditional to 
the existence of the bodies, but can themselves exist without 
them. And they passed a similar judgment on the lines 
in relation to the planes ; and, finally, on the points of 
which the line is composed. Points are the smallest units 
of space. We abstract from them not merely thickness 
and breadth, but length likewise, thus completing their 
abstraction from spatial extension. It is an abstraction 
which is of use where the limits of extension are con- 
cerned rather than extension as such. Now these points 
were identified by the Pythagoreans with Unity that is, 


with the element of Number. Number, then, appeared to 
them as a kind of fundamental principle, in which the 
objective world was not merely dissolved by thought, but 
from which it proceeded. It was, as it were, composed 
and built up of Number, so that the line which consisted 
of two points would represent duality, the plane would 
represent the conception of three, and the body the con- 
ception of four. This delusion was supported by an 
idiosyncrasy of Greek language and thought as innocent 
in its origin as it was perilous in its consequences. The 
analogy between numbers and spatial relations led to the 
description of qualities of the former by epithets which 
are strictly appropriate to the latter alone. Nor are we 
wholly free from the influence of our masters, the Greeks. 
If we no longer speak of oblong or cyclic numbers, we 
still have square and cubic numbers ; but all that we mean 
by these phrases is that the products stand to their factors 
in the same proportion as the spatial-content of a plane or 
body to the key-numbers of the lines containing its super- 
ficial area or corporeal volume. We shall hardly be accused 
of exaggeration if we say that this kind of linguistic artifice 
is expressly calculated to confuse a mind unversed in the 
practice of abstraction. The parallelism between the two 
series of phenomena would inevitably rank as identity; 
the spatial form or figure would appear as substantially the 
same as the number indicating the mass of spatial-units it 
contained ; number would, or could at least, be regarded as 
a principle, or, as we still say, a " root " of the plane and 
consequently of the body too ; the expression "raising a 
number to its cube " would lead to the illusion that a body 
or object grew out of Number as an object is composed 
out of its elements ; and in these misleading terms are we 
not justified in perceiving the origin of the whole, or at 
least of more than the half, of the Pythagorean doctrine 
of number ? 

More than half at least, for one branch of the doctrine 
and that by no means the least important, seems at first 
not to be covered by this explanation. Number was the 
ultimate basis of the spiritual no less than of the material 


world. Seven, for instance, was identified with health ; 
eight with Love and Friendship, as a harmony best 
expressed by the octave ; Justice figured as a square 
number, doubtless because the " eye for eye " theory of 
retribution recalled the composition of a number out 
of two like factors. And in instances where we are no 
longer able to perceive the association between numbers 
and ideas, the same principle obviously operated. But what 
was the purpose of this game of thought played in quite 
sober earnest ? And how, we wonder, are we to account for 
the Pythagorean numerical explanation of the essence of all 
things in the moral and spiritual world ? The true answer 
would probably take this shape : As soon as Number had 
once been exalted to the type of reality in the physical 
universe, other realities too would inevitably have been 
co-ordinated with the same type, and in that age and long 
afterwards our abstractions were their realities. It is hard 
for us to conceive the dilemma in which they were placed. 
They had to choose between two alternatives : either they 
must deny the existence of health, virtue, love, friendship, 
and so forth, or they must discern their inmost essence in 
Number, the root of all other reality. Further, we must 
bear in mind the fascination exercised by numbers on 
the senses of mankind. They do not merely fill the 
multitude with intellectual delusions, as is shown in the 
history of religions, but strong men of rare and subtle 
powers are sometimes liable to their sway. We ought to 
realize the intoxicating force of these all-comprehensive 
abstractions, working as they did on minds at home only 
in the thin air of those intellectual heights, or at least 
debarred from the counterpoise afforded by gifts and 
occupations of a widely differing kind. The sacredness of 
the number three meets us as early as Homer, where a 
trinity of gods, Zeus, Athene, and Apollo, are addressed 
in a single supplication. Three, again, and its square 
play the most prominent part in the rites of the Greeks 
and Romans and of the Eastern branches of the Aryans. 
We find it in ancestor worship, where the father, grand- 
father, and great-grandfather are selected out of the whole 


lineage as Tritopatores or paternal triad. We find it again 
in the number of the expiatory sacrifices, of the dedicatory 
offerings, of the funeral festivals, of the Graces, the Fates, 
the Muses, and so forth, and we need merely mention the 
Indian Trimurti Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva and kindred 
religious conceptions, and the trinity of primary beings of 
Pherecydes and the Orphics generally. The Pythago- 
reans sought to establish the sacred character of this 
number by claiming that it contained a beginning, a 
middle, and an end, an argument which was not entirely 
without effect on the highly cultivated mind of Aristotle. 
It is not without surprise that we are strongly reminded 
of the Pythagorean doctrine of numbers in the speculations 
of Giordano Bruno and Auguste Comte. The importance 
assigned to the numbers three, four, and ten in the Comtist 
philosophy is replaced in the master's later and religious 
phase by the significance he attaches to the prime numbers. 
Finally, Lawrence Oken, a leader of the modern school 
of " nature-philosophy," did not hesitate to incorporate the 
following sentence among his aphorisms : " Everything 
that is real, posited, finite, has become this out of numbers, 
or, more strictly speaking, every Real is absolutely nothing 
else than a number." After that no one can be astonished 
at the curious teachings which issued from the Pytha- 
goreans. We read there without surprise that Unity, or 
the Monad, contains the two fundamental contraries the 
Unlimited and the Limited which form the basis of the 
universe ; we are told that their harmonious mixture 
engendered the numbers on which all being depends, and 
is thus accountable for the origin of the world ; the odd 
numbers correspond to the Limited, and the even to the 
Unlimited. Further, this doctrine informs us that the 
number ten, as the sum of the first four numbers, 1+2 
+ 3 + 4, is the most perfect of all, and so forth, and so 
forth. Nor need we be astonished at the "table of con- 
traries" which reached the Pythagoreans from Babylon, 
and was eagerly adopted and highly honoured by them. 
According to that table, the original opposites of the 
Limited and the Unlimited brought forth a series of nine 


other pairs the Odd and Even, the One and Many, the 
Right and Left, the Male and Female, the Straight and 
Crooked, the Light and Dark, the Good and Evil, the 
Square and the Oblong. At this point there presently 
arose a mist which obscured the brilliance of Plato's theory 
of ideas in the mind of its ageing author, and threw its 
shadow over many of the movements of more recent 
speculation. Towards the beginning of the Christian era 
antiquity, which was falling in a decline, gathered the 
multiplicity of positive systems into one collective whole. 
It was a period of decadence, when the palate of thought 
required more stimulating diet, and the last appetizing 
touch was added to the philosophic brew by the mysticism 
of the Neo-Pythagoreans. 

We can imagine our astonished readers inquiring if the 
pioneers of exact science were at the same time the pioneers 
and the most influential prophets of mysticism. The fact 
is undoubted, but the astonishment seems to us to argue 
an insufficient acquaintance with the peculiarities of the 
mathematical temperament. It is true that inductive 
reasoning, lighted by the steady torch of the sciences of 
space and number, leads to a brightness and clearness 
of perception which may even fringe on a one-sided 
disregard for the dark riddles of the universe. Experiment 
and observation, however, played a comparatively re- 
stricted part in Pythagorean practice ; first, the art of 
experimentation was still in its infancy, and, secondly, the 
knowledge of mathematics was still too little advanced to 
be applied on an extensive scale in the cause of physical 
research. With the sole exception of the fundamental 
experiment in acoustics mentioned above, we are acquainted 
with no other similar contribution on the part of the 
founder of the school, though when we remember the pro- 
position in geometry which is called after his name, and 
his doctrine of proportion, we see that Pythagoras was 
of indisputable service to the cause of the mathematical 
sciences. But a one-sided mathematical genius shows very 
different features. The mere mathematician tends inevitably 
to dogmatic judgments, a tendency which is doubtless due 


to the fact that his proofs must either be valid or must fail. 
He is a complete stranger to the nuances of thought, to the 
delicate intellectual refinement, and the open-minded plia- 
bility which characterize the historian. This contrast may be 
illustrated by the polar examples of Heraclitus, the father 
of relativism, and the absolutism of the " mathematicians." 
The mathematician's attitude, when he is confronted with 
mere probabilities and plausibilities incapable of demonstra- 
tion, will depend in a remarkable degree on the accidents 
of temperament and training. In religion and folklore as a 
whole he will be completely at a loss. At one time he will 
reject them root and branch with the impatience of reason 
towards nonsense ; at another time he will willingly bow his 
neck under the yoke of tradition. Finally, the proud struc- 
ture of these sciences is composed of a series of deductions. 
The foundation of experience which is at the bottom of the 
building is lost under the towering superstructure, and its 
loss is the less remarkable in that its area was small and 
was familiar at so early a stage that its empirical origin is 
likely to be overlooked. Thus it happens that those who 
cultivate these branches of knowledge are but too frequently 
apt to mistake the firm concatenation of a doctrine as an 
adequate substitute for its defects on the side of outward 
proof. The rigour of deduction is often compatible in 
their minds with an arbitrary and subjective looseness in the 
premises. Other facts, too, should be remembered if we are to 
grasp the key to the mystery. In the first place, the school 
was founded in an era of overweening credulity. Secondly, 
Pythagoras himself was as much a man of religious tem- 
perament as of scientific training. His personality, too, was 
imposing, and he had the further advantage of having 
successfully inaugurated new doctrines and customs which 
had invested him with a kind of halo. The old Pythagoreans, 
with their defective criticism and their proneness to super- 
stition, were mocked at as men of clumsy and ungainly 
intellect More than the disciples of any other school, 
they swore to the words of their master. " Ipse dixit " 
was their favourite cry ; it was the magic shield which 
yarded off every doubt and repelled every hostile attack. 


Nor have they been spared the reproach of having adapted 
the facts of nature to suit their preconceived opinions, and 
of having filled up by fictions the lacunae in their system. 
They lived and moved in the science of numbers, and 
Aristotle tells us that 

"they collected and fitted together any points of agreement 
they could discover between the numbers and harmonies on the 
one side, and the conditions and parts of heaven and the universe 
on the other. And where therej was a slight misfit, some gentle 
pressure would be applied for the sake of rendering their theory a 
homogeneous whole. I mean, for instance," he continues, " that 
since they regard the number ten as a perfect whole comprising the 
rest of the numbers, therefore they assert tbat the moving luminaries 
of heaven are also ten in number. Now, as a matter of fact, 
merely nine are visible, so they invented the counter-earth as a 

The same authority condemns their malpractice yet 
more sharply as follows : 

" Further, they construct a second earth in opposition to our 
own, which they call the counter-earth, and therein they do 
not look for theories and explanations, but corrupt the facts in 
reference to certain theories and favourite opinions, and thus, it 
may be said, they display themselves as co-operators in the creation 
of the universe." 

3. The justice of Aristotle's indictment cannot ac- 
curately be estimated till we have briefly examined the 
Pythagorean astronomy. The qualities and defects of 
their method are displayed most clearly in that field, and 
their combination is at times so close as to produce an 
inextricable confusion. Anaximander, we remember, has 
already delivered the earth from its supposititious basis, 
and had let it float freely in space as the centre of the 
world. Neither Pythagoras nor the train of his immediate 
successors seems to have questioned the equilibrium or 
the central position of the earth. But whereas Anaxi- 
mander had merely departed from the primeval conception 
of a flat disc-like earth, so far as to give it the shape of 
a drum, Pythagoras now went further. He recognized 


stated that the earth is spherical. There are three 
ble ways by which Pythagoras may have reached this 
lal discovery. He may have based it on the right 
pretation of phenomena, above all on the round 
DW cast by the earth in the eclipses of the moon. 
LC may have extended the groundless assumption of 
lerical sky to the separate luminaries of heaven. Or, 
y, he may have been prepossessed in favour of a 
shape by his view of it as the "most perfect" of 
>real forms. But whichever alternative we adopt, it 
in all circumstances a grand and new step in the 
fcion of the true, the Copernican view of the universe, 
not merely was the earth now indued with spherical 
;, but the moon, whose phases had perhaps been the 
contribution to the right theory, and the sun, and 
>lanets were also looked on as globular, so that the 
ptional privileges of our own luminary were repealed, 
fjcame a star among the stars. And the spherical 
5 was best suited to its progressive movement in 
;. The vessel, we might say, was constructed in the 
i most convenient for its voyage ; the moorings were 
ind nothing but an urgent motive-force was wanted 
.unch it from the harbour where it lay. The motive 
supplied by the stress of the greater accuracy 
led in the observation of facts, combined with the 
iples of the Pythagorean school, and a system of 
tiomy was built up which has frequently been mocked 
ridiculed, but which is seen, in the clear light of 
:rn impartial research, to have been one of the most 
lal and brilliant creations of the Greek intellect. 



i. VOLTAIRE called the later Pythagorean astronomy, 
connected with the name of Philolaus, a " Gallimathias," 
and Sir George Cornewall Lewis indicts it as "wild and 
fanciful." But the great French writer with his frequently 
over-hasty judgments and the Englishman with his excess 
of conscientiousness have fallen into the same mistake. It 
is true that the doctrine in question is a tissue of truth 
and invention, but its features of truth were its vital and 
fundamental parts, whereas the fictitious portions were 
merely a superficial covering which was soon to dissolve 
like smoke-wreaths. But if we are to understand the 
motives which inspired the cosmology of Philolaus, we 
must pause a moment at the commonest phenomena of 
the heavens. 

Each day the sun runs his course from east to west. 
Simultaneously he climbs higher up the sky to sink at the 
end of a few months from the height he has reached. 
The combination of his daily and annual movements has 
the effect of the windings of a screw or spiral something 
like the shell of a snail and like it, too, the intervals 
between the circles contract as the zenith is approached. 
This view was hardly likely to satisfy inquirers who 
had approached the question of celestial motion in the 
confident belief that it was " simple, steady, and regular/' 
It may be permissible to blame this belief as a 
prejudice ; but though it was in part a preconceived 
opinion, yet the closer observation of facts tended 


generally to confirm it. And even where such confirma- 
tion was wanting, the belief was of excellent use as a 
principle of research, just like the kindred assumption of 
a teleological purpose in the structure of organisms. It 
was possible to get rid of the confusing irregularity. For a 
complex movement may be irregular while the partial 
movements that compose it are regular. What was needed 
was an act of mental separation. And the clue was found 
by separating the daily movement of the sun from its 
annual movement At this point our early philosophers 
had a brilliant flash of inspiration. They conceived the 
daily movement of the sun and moon, and indeed of all the 
whole starry heaven, as not real at all, but merely apparent. 
Their supposition that the earth was moving from west to 
east enabled them* to dispense with the assumption that 
the sun, moon, planets, and fixed stars were moving in 
an opposite direction. The question suggests itself here, 
Did these Pythagoreans recognize and teach the rota- 
tion of the earth round its axis ? Our answer is : They 
did not do that, but they did recognize and teach the 
existence of a movement which operated in a precisely 
similar manner. It was, so to say, the rotation round 
its axis of an earth-ball with a considerably enlarged 
circumference. They represented the earth as circu- 
lating in twenty-four hours round a central point, the 
nature of which will presently occupy us. Here, how- 
ever, the reader should familiarize himself with a simple 
feature of this doctrine. A moment's reflection will 
show him that, for any given point in the earth's surface, 
and for its shifting relations with the sun, moon, and 
stars, it makes not the remotest difference whether the 
ball on which it is situated revolves on its axis in the 
course of a day, or describes a circular course, while 
facing the same directions, which brings it back to 
its starting-point in the same limit of time. We can 
hardly exaggerate the importance of this discovery. The 
revelation that there were apparent heavenly motions 
broke the barrier that obstructed the path to further pro- 
gress. The central position of the earth and its immobility 
VOL. I. I 


had both been given up, and the way was open for 
the Copernican doctrine which followed after an interval 
the extraordinary brevity of which is hardly sufficiently 
recognized. Nor need we be at all surprised that an 
equivalent for the theory of rotation was adopted instead 
of the theory. For though we never actually see a 
luminary turning on its axis, yet changes in its position 
are matters of daily and hourly observation. Nothing, 
then, could be more natural than that, scientific imagina- 
tion, which had just succeeded by a mighty effort in 
freeing itself from the delusions of sense, should have 
been content to replace the apparent immobility of the 
earth by a movement moulded on familiar models, and 
not by one unique in its kind and entirely without a 

The centre round which the earth was now admitted 
to move served equally as the centre of the rest of the 
luminaries, which had formerly been supposed to revolve 
round the earth. The moon accomplished its course once 
a month; the sun once a year; the five planets visible 
to the naked eye required various periods, which, with 
the exception of Mercury and Venus, were considerably 
longer; finally, the firmament of fixed stars, whose daily 
rotation had been recognized as apparent, was similarly 
equipped with a circular movement of its own, though of 
a very much slower order a conception which may either 
have been due to the mere desire for conformity, but 
which is far more probably to be ascribed to that change 
of position already observed and taken in account which 
we call the precession of the equinoxes. The daily move- 
ment of the sun or rather, according to this theory, of the 
earth took place in a plane which was now recognized 
to incline towards the plane in which the annual movements 
of the sun, moon, and planets were situated ; in other 
words, the obliquity, whether of the equator or of the 
ecliptic, had been recognized, and the new conception 
was thus completely adequate to explain the changes of 
the seasons. 

We come now to the problem of the central point round 


which the heavenly bodies were to move in concentric 
circles. It was no ideal centre, but rather an actual 
body, consisting of universal or central fire. The enemies 
of Philolaus call it "a dreary and fantastic fiction," but 
those who try to throw themselves with temperate judgment 
into the modes of thought obtaining in the dawn of science 
will rather call it "the product of analogical inferences, 
the force of which must have been well-nigh irresistible/' 
The assumption that the heavenly bodies described circles 
was not merely approximately true, but apart from the 
circular segments traversed by the sun and moon on the 
firmament, it appeared that no other conclusion could be 
derived from the circular courses described before our eyes 
by the circumpolar fixed stars that never set ; and though 
that movement, like the movement of the whole firmament 
of fixed stars, had now been recognized as purely apparent 
yet the daily motion of the earth that took its place was 
bound to have the same circular character. Here, accord- 
ingly, the type was given, conformably with which all the 
heavenly bodies had to move. But human experience 
supplies no example of circular movements without an 
actual centre. A wheel turns on its axis ; a stone, attached 
to a string for the purpose of slinging, turns round the 
hand which holds it and which sets it in motion; and, 
finally, when divine worship invited Greek men and women 
to the dance, the altar of the god formed the centre of 
their solemn and rhythmic paces. It may be asked, how- 
ever, what need there was of inventing a central fire, when 
it actually existed and was visible to every man's eye. 
What was wanted was a centre of motion and a source 
of vigour and life. But instead of accrediting the universal 
light of the sun with the rank that belonged to it, a lumi- 
nous body was invented whose rays no mortal eye had 
seen, and, considering that the habitable side of the earth 
was turned away from the central fire, no mortal eye would 
ever see. It was an hypothesis removed by a perverse in- 
genuity from every chance of verification, and one wonders 
why its mistaken authors did not rather jump straight away 
at the heliocentric doctrine, and rest satisfied therewith. 


Three sufficiently valid solutions may be suggested for 
this problem. Remembering that the delusions of sense 
are only abandoned by degrees, and that the human mind 
habitually follows the path of least resistance, we have first 
to note that the heliocentric theory was bound to be later 
than that of rotation round an axis. It was obviously 
impossible to let the earth revolve round the sun in a daily 
and yearly course simultaneously, and we have already 
learned to justify the precedence of the Pythagorean 
equivalent over the rotation theory. A second consider- 
able obstacle to the prompt admission of a heliocentric or 
Copernican astronomy lay, we conceive, in the exact simi- 
larity between the sun and moon. The great luminary of 
day and his more modest sister of the night were visible 
to men as two heavenly bodies regularly relieving each 
other and combining to measure time by their revolutions, 
and it was plainly impossible that, except by a process of 
elimination, shutting out every other issue, men would ever 
be brought to believe that luminaries so closely connected 
differed in the fundamental point that the moon was con- 
demned to ceaseless wandering while the sun was vowed to 
eternal rest. But, thirdly and chiefly, universal fire was 
more satisfactory as the centre of the world than the sun. 
Our sun is the central point of a system of luminaries 
by the side of which countless other systems exist without 
visible design or recognizable order. Human intelligence 
resists this belief, as it resists every other call to renuncia- 
tion, till the compulsion of fact leaves it no second alterna- 
tive. But first it demands a uniform picture of the world 
instead of a fragmentary view of this kind, and the demand 
springs from the natural impulse towards lightening and 
simplifying the intellectual complexus >an impulse assisted 
in the present instance, indeed, by highly developed aesthetic 
and religious wants. 

It will be readily admitted that this picture of the 
universe owed no little to the contribution of the emotions 
and the fancy. The circular course of the divine luminaries 
which had been raised by the fictitious counter-earth to the 
sacred number ten was described as a "dance," The 


rhythm of this starry dance was set to the sounds arising 
from the motion itself, and making unceasing music, which 
was recognized and known as the " harmony of the spheres." 
Next, the universal fire, which was the central point of the 
celestial procession, was known by many names. It was 
called the "mother of the gods/' the "citadel of Zeus/' 
and so forth, but two of its titles may be mentioned as 
especially characteristic. These were the " altar " and the 
"hearth of the universe." The stars revolved round the 
sacred source of all life and motion like worshippers round 
an altar, and the universal hearth was the centre of the 
world or cosmos as a man's domestic hearth was honoured 
as the sacred centre of his home, or as the flame that burned 
and was never extinguished in the civic hearth of the 
Prytaneum formed the holy rallying-point of every Greek 
community. Hence streamed the rays of light and heat, 
hence the sun derived his beams and communicated them 
again to both earths and to the moon, just as the mother 
of the bride lighted at a Greek wedding the fire of the 
new home from the parental hearth, or as a new colony 
would borrow its fire from the hearth of the mother-city. 
All the threads of the Greek view of life are combined 
here. We see the exalted joy in existence, the loving awe 
for the universe ruled by divine forces, the sublime sense 
of beauty, symmetry, and harmony, and not least the 
comfortable affection for civic and domestic peace. Those, 
then, who held these views, and whose universe was sur- 
rounded by the fire-circle of Olympus as by a strong wall, 
found in it their home, their sanctuary, and the type of 
their art Nowhere else do we find a picture of the uni- 
verse at once so genial and so sublime. 

2. The emotional faculties, then, were satisfied in a 
truly wonderful degree, though at the cost of the intel- 
lect We have now to estimate the price which reason had 
to pay, and which will be found to have been by no means 
exorbitant. Even the " dreams of the Pythagoreans " con- 
tained a modicum of truth ; or, where that modicum was 
wanting, there was at least an indication given of the road 
which would ultimately lead to truth. At first sight, for 


instance, no doctrine could appear more arbitrary than that 
of the harmony of the spheres. It obviously sprang in the 
last resort from an aesthetic demand which was formulated 
as follows : Our eyes are filled with the grandest sights ; 
how is it, then, that the twin sense of our ears should go 
empty ? But the premise on which the answer rested was 
not wholly unreasonable. For unless the space in which the 
stars revolve is completely void, the matter that fills it must 
undergo vibrations which in themselves are capable of being 
heard. Even in recent times, no meaner philosopher than 
Karl Ernst von Baer, the great founder of embryology, has 
asked if there is not " perhaps a murmur in universal space, 
a harmony of the spheres, audible to quite other ears than 
ours." Now, it was objected to the Pythagoreans that we 
do not actually hear such sounds ; but they deprecated 
the astonishment of the cavillers by the following happy 
analogy. A blacksmith, they said, is deaf to the con- 
tinuous, regular beat of the hammers in his workshop ; and 
herein they anticipated the teaching of Thomas Hobbes, 
who argued that the operation of the senses depends on a 
change in the stimuli ; the stimulation must be interrupted, 
or altered in degree or kind. There was nothing fanciful 
in the Pythagorean doctrine except only the belief that 
the differences of velocity in the movements of the stars 
were capable of producing a harmonious orchestration and 
not merely sounds of varying pitch. At this point their 
artistic imagination had a freer rein, inasmuch as they 
were completely unable to determine the relative distances 
of the planets and the absolute velocities that ensued from 
them, though they could arrive, approximately at least, at 
the circular segments which the planets described in a given 
time in other words, at the angular velocities of their 

But here, too, we shall presently find ourselves ready 
to mitigate our judgment. We have to remember that 
the premise of law and order, as pervading the universe, 
could hardly have been applied by the Pythagoreans to 
atjy other relations than those of geometry, arithmetic, 
and music the last named because of the importance of 


acoustics in their natural philosophy. Simplicity/symmetry, 
and harmony were ascribed indifferently to all three. 
They neither knew nor divined anything of the forces 
which produce celestial movements, so that, even had 
they been acquainted with the elliptic orbits of the 
planets, that knowledge, we may remark, would never 
have satisfied their demand for order. They would 
not have recognized the curve as the resultant of two 
rectilinear forces. Their heaven, says Aristotle, "is all 
number and harmony," and we may add that a correct 
intuition of the highest significance was still clothed in 
unsuitable shape. The seekers were incapable of dis- 
covering law where it was really in operation, and it was 
anyhow better to look for it where it did not exist than 
not to look for it at all. Further, the assumption that 
the sun shines with borrowed light may be traced in the 
main to the parallelism between the sun and the moon 
which we mentioned just now. Moreover, the homo- 
geneous conception of the universe might conceivably 
have suffered if a second independent source of light had 
been assumed so near the centre of the world. But since 
they could not altogether dispense with such an assumption, 
they found it in the Olympus alluded to above as the 
girdle of the universe, containing all the elements in their 
unsullied beauty. The firmament of fixed stars, and 
possibly the planets, derived all their light from Olympus, 
and the sun borrowed a part of his from the same source, 
to make amends, we presume, for his otherwise too 
frequent obscurations. The porous and glass-like qualities 
of the sun, which enabled it to collect the rays of light 
and to emit them again, should be noted in this connec- 
tion. Next we come to the second great fiction of the 
Pythagoreans that of the counter-earth. We may readily 
follow Aristotle in believing that the sacredness of the 
number ten played a part in this conception. But the 
introduction of a new luminary and its insertion between 
the earth and the central fire had many important conse- 
quences, and there is no reason to doubt that this fiction 
of the counter-earth was recommended to its inventors as 


much for the sake of its results as for the reason alleged 
by the Stagirite. The lacunae in the information at our 
disposal do not permit us to pass definite judgment ; but 
Boeckh's opinion that the counter-earth was to act as a 
screen of the central fire, so as to explain its invisibility, 
is certainly defective. For the supposition that the un- 
inhabited western hemisphere of the earth was turned 
towards the fire was a quite sufficient explanation. It is 
more probable that the counter-earth was invented partly 
as an ostensible cause for the eclipses of the moon which 
occurred so frequently as to seem to require the shadow 
of the counter-earth in addition to the shadow of the earth. 
The facts of history, however, are more eloquent than 
all the arguments. Historically considered, the theory 
of central fire promoted and did not retard the progress 
of scientific research. In less than a century and a half it 
engendered the heliocentric doctrine. The fantastic excre- 
scences of the Philolaic system fell away piece by piece. 
The counter-earth was the first to go : the death-blow was 
struck at this fiction by the extension of the geographical 
horizon. The foundations of the hypothetical^ structure 
built by the Pythagoreans began to give way in me fourth 
century at latest. At that time exacter new^s reached 
Greece of discoveries in the west and in the east. Hanno, 
the Carthaginian, had made his great voyage of discovery, 
and had passed the barrier of the Pillars of Hercules, 
where the Straits of Gibraltar now are, which had ranked 
till then as the furthest limit of the Western world ; and 
shortly afterwards the outline of the East was more 
clearly defined by Alexander's march in India. AjcoJgtT 
of observation had been reached from which the counter- 
earth should have been visible, and since neither the 
counter-earth nor the central fire, thus robbed of its last 
protection, came in view at that point, this portion of 
the Pythagorean cosmology was spontaneously shattered. 
Nor was this all : the daily circular movement of the earth 
disappeared with the fictitious centre that conditioned it, 
and the doctrine of rotation took the place of the theory 
we have described as its equivalent Ecphantus, one of 


the youngest of the Pythagoreans, taught that the earth 
turned on its own axis. The second step on the road to 
the heliocentric doctrine followed swiftly on the first. The 
marked increase in luminosity which the planets occasion- 
ally display was first noticed in Mercury and Venus, 
and the true cause of the phenomenon suggested itself 
inevitably as the occasional closer propinquity of these 
wandering stars to the earth. Thus it was clearly 
impossible that they could revolve concentrically round 
the earth. These two nearest neighbours of the sun had 
plainly confessed their dependence on that luminary by 
the revolution they respectively accomplished in the course 
of a solar year. Accordingly they were the first of the 
planets whose movements were combined with the sun's. 
This was the masterly discovery of Heraclides of Heraclia 
on the Black Sea, a man whose powerful genius, contained 
in a misshapen body, was familiar with the most diverse 
regions of science and literature, who had visited the 
schools of Plato and Aristotle, and had kept up a lively 
intercourse with the latest Pythagoreans. But here, again, 
there was no finality. Mars likewise displayed a con- 
spicuous change in his degree of brightness even to the 
incomplete observation which obtained in that age, and 
thus a link was forged to unite the two inner planets 
with one at least of the outer ones. Philosophy was 
approaching the point of view reached in later times by 
Tycho de Brahe, who represented all the planets with 
the exception of the earth as revolving round the sun, 
while the sun with his train of planets revolved round 
the earth. The last and final step was taken by 
Aristarchus of Samos, the Copernicus of antiquity, about 
280 B.C., who completed what the astronomer from 
the Pontus, to whom allusion has just been made, had 
less definitely begun. Eudoxus had given the clue to 
this great intellectual achievement by his discovery that 
the size of the sun is considerably greater than the earth's. 
Aristarchus computed their relative proportion at seven to 
one ; and inadequate as this estimate was in comparison 
with the actual fact, it was sufficient to expose the 


absurdity of setting the great ball of fire to revolve like 
a satellite round the small world that we inhabit. The 
earth had to lay down the sceptre which had recently been 
restored to it ; heliocentricity superseded geocentricity, and 
the goal was reached for which Pythagoras and his disciples 
had smoothed and pointed the way. As things turned 
out, however, it was soon to be abandoned again, and its 
place to be taken for another long series of centuries 
by-.the immemorial delusions fostered in the name of 

But it is time to return from this historical forecast to its 
starting-point at the old Pythagorean doctrines, and there 
is now nothing to prevent our resuming the thread of 
the inquiry which we dropped at the close of the last 
chapter but one. 




I. ORPHICISM and Pythagorism might be called the male 
and female forms of the same conception. In the one 
there is a surplus of visionary and fantastic elements ; In 
the other, of rational and scientific method. The one 
answers to the need for personal salvation ; the other to the 
requirements of state and society. The one Is dominated 
by a love of purity and by a fear of contamination ; the 
other promotes the cause of morality and civil order. 
The one is wanting in vigorous self-confidence, and tends 
to a contrite asceticism ; the other exhibits the resolute 
discipline of an ethical culture, nourished on the arts and 
on self-examination. Among the Orphics it is a religious 
brotherhood which unites the members of the community, 
whereas the union of the Pythagoreans takes the form of a 
semi-political knightly order. Orphicism takes no account of 
mathematical or astronomical research ; Pythagorism holds 
aloof from the speculations of cosmogony and theogony. 
But despite every difference ia degree, and in the midst 
of these distinctions, there is yet a most striking concord- 
ance, strong enough at many points to fuse the two sects 
in one, and to make it almost impossible to say which gives 
to or takes from the other. 

In one respect, however, the difference may be stated 
with comparative clearness. The two sects may be dis- 
tinguished by that important part of their doctrine which 
refers to metempsychosis, or the transmigration of souls, 


Aristotle tells us that, "according to the Pythagorean 
myths, any soul goes into any body," and, to say nothing 
of the evidence of countless authorities of a later date, 
Xenophanes, a younger contemporary of Pythagoras, relates 
a story which illustrates this point. His verses on the 
subject are still extant. He tells us that Pythagoras, 
seeing a dog being maltreated, and hearing him howl, cried 
out in pitying tones, " Leave off beating the dog, for I re- 
cognize in his tones the voice of the soul of a friend," An 
anecdote of this kind and its anecdotal character is vouched 
for by the words "it is related," with which Xenophanes 
introduces the story could hardly have been invented, 
unless the incident had been typical of the man of whom 
it was told. As a matter of fact, Pythagoras as we see 
from Empedocles, for instance had many wonderful tales 
to tell of the previous existence of his own soul. It 
will be instructive to pause for a moment at this strange 
doctrine. We call it strange, but if we remember how 
widely it was spread we shall perhaps revise the epithet. 
It is shared by the Gallic Druids and the Druses of the 
Middle Ages ; it is maintained to-day by the Zulus and 
the Greenlanders, by the Indians of North America and the 
Dayaks of Borneo, by the Karens of Burma and the in- 
habitants of Guinea ; it counts among its adherents the 
worshippers of Brahma and Buddha, and it attracted the 
sympathetic assent of a Spinoza and a Lessing. The 
wide extension of this theory in space and time is sufficient 
evidence of its deep roots in human thought and senti- 
ment. It must be noted as a preliminary condition 
that the doctrine of the transmigration of human souls 
into animals and plants and conversely, which, it may be 
added, is not admitted in all the instances we have cited, 
was incompatible with the pride of species, which would 
place impassable barriers between these natural kingdoms. 
In this connection we may trace the following development 
of thought. In the first place, from the phenomena of 
dreams, ecstasy, and obsession was derived the right of free 
movement, one might almost say the right of free domicile, 
which the soul enjoyed ; and, this being granted, there was 


no reason why, when its temporary abode broke up, the 
soul should not seek and choose a new dwelling-place for 
itself. There was no more reason why the soul should not 
change its body than why a man should not change his 
clothes. Next, it would be asked whence all the souls 
were derived which inhabit and animate men, animals, and 
plants for a brief period of time ; and, further, if they were 
as numerous as the short-lived beings with whom they 
were temporarily joined. Take the child, for example, who 
dies at a tender age : was his soul created for that span 
of time, or had it been waiting since the beginning of the 
universe for its little term of incarnation ? And what was 
to happen to it afterwards ? Was the spiritual being, 
with its power of animating a human or an animal body, 
to exercise that capacity for a few weeks, or days, or 
hours, or moments alone, and then to return to the eternal 
silence ? And even apart from this exceptional instance, it 
was surely more natural to regard these imperishable or 
hardly perishable higher beings as more limited in number 
than the swiftly falling material beings, constantly vanishing 
and constantly replaced, over which the souls preside. The 
officers of an army, we remember, are less numerous than 
the soldiers they command And finally, as soon as thought 
began to assume a stricter logical precision, the analogical 
inferences here concerned must likewise have become more 
rigid. The survival of the body by the soul was and is, almost 
without exception, a universal belief of mankind. And as 
there was no reason to contemplate the later extinction of 
the soul, its survival became more and more unlimited, till, 
with the doctrine of eternity, it was promoted to eternal 
existence. And as everything that is created is demon- 
strably perishable, the thought was bound to occur with 
irresistible force that the imperishable was also the un- 
created, that the eternity of after-existence was the guar- 
antee of an eternity of pre-existence. In periods of more 
advanced civilization a further conclusion was drawn. It 
was seen that even in the material world things were not 
actually created and destroyed, but were rather involved 
in constant Qhange and circulation ; and, transferring this 


observation to the spiritual universe, a similar circulation 
was postulated, in pursuance of which one and the same 
being changed its earthly form innumerable times, and, 
after an incalculable series of transformations, returned at 
last to an earlier or even to its earliest shape. 

The Greeks, equally with other nations, might have 
derived their belief in metempsychosis from these and 
kindred speculations. Nevertheless, this does not seem to 
have been the case. No one tells us anything of the kind, 
and if the belief had been established in Hellas from of 
old, it would not have escaped the notice of Xenophanes, 
who had travelled so much and was well versed in such 
topics. It would hardly have occurred to him to mention 
this doctrine as peculiarly characteristic of Pythagoras, 
and to have ridiculed him on that account. Our opinion 
is supported by a consideration of a more general kind. 
Though kindness to animals was the foundation on which 
the doctrine rested, yet the temperament of the Greek 
people was never especially friendly to animals. With a 
few quite isolated exceptions, there were no sacred animals 
in Greece, as there were in India and Egypt. Finally, 
it is d priori in the highest degree improbable that 
Pythagoras invented a belief which was already firmly 
seated in many popular creeds. The general problem, 
then, is reduced to the particular question, From what 
people or creed did the sage who was famous above all 
for his far - reaching " inquiry " borrow the doctrine of 
metempsychosis? Herodotus replies by a reference to 
Egypt, whence men, whose names he knew, but was reluc- 
tant to mention, had transplanted the doctrine to Greek 
soil. Unfortunately, the direct evidence which we now 
possess of the Egyptian theory of the soul prevents our 
complete acquiescence in that account. The " Book of the 
Dead" recognizes the privilege of good souls to assume 
various shapes of animals and plants ; it may " appear 
one day as a heron, another as a cockchafer, and yet 
another as a lotus-flower on the water ; " it may display 
itself as the winged phoenix, as a goose, a swallow, 
a plover, a crane, or a viper. And the wicked soul, too, 


the restless vagabond between heaven and earth, seeks a 
human body in which to pitch its tent, in order to torment 
it with sickness, and to h?'/ry it to bloodshed and madness. 
But when Herodotus goes on to speak of the regular course 
pursued by the soul of the dead, " through all departments 
of life, on land, in the sea, and in the air, till after the 
expiry of three thousand years it returns to a human body 
again," we note that he is exceeding his Egyptian text, at 
least as far as it has hitherto been deciphered. Whether 
or not the last word has been said by the antiquarians on 
a subject so constantly changing and so rife with contra- 
dictions, for the present at any rate we are unable to 
accept the statement of Herodotus. There is a far closer 
agreement between Pythagorism and the Indian doctrine, 
not merely in their general features, but even in certain 
details, such as vegetarianism ; and it may be added that 
the formulae which summarize the whole creed of the "circle 
and wheel " of births are likewise the same in both. It 
is almost impossible for us to refer this identity to mere 
chance. It is true that no account would be acceptable 
which would require Pythagoras to have sat at the feet of 
Indian priests or to have been even indirectly influenced 
by the newly hatched Buddhistic religion. But we may 
dispense alike with both of these wild assumptions. The 
Indian doctrine of metempsychosis is older than the 
Buddhists, and it is not too much to assume that the 
curious Greek who was the contemporary of Buddha, and 
it may have been of Zarathustra too, would have acquired 
a more or less exacf knowle3ge of the religious specula- 
tions of the East, in that age of intellectual fermentation, 
through the medium of Persia. It must be remembered 
in this connection that the Asiatic Greeks, at the time 
when Pythagoras still dwelt in his Ionian home, were 
united with a part of the Indian nation under the single 
sway of Cyrus, the founder of the Persian empire. Still, 
be the origin of the belief what it may, it was fused at an 
early date with Orphic doctrines. These were originally 
severed from Pythagorism, though we now know them 
better in combination ; and, in attempting to explain these 


common theories, we must dwell, above all, on their funda- 
mental doctrine, of which metempsychosis was only a part, 
though a part of considerable magnitude. 

2. This common doctrine may be epitomized in a single 
significant phrase as the " fall of the soul by sin." The soul 
was of divine origin, and its earthly existence was unworthy 
of it. Its body was a fetter, a prison, a grave. Nothing 
but its own guilt could degrade it from heavenly excellence 
to the impurity of earthly life. Its sin involved it in peni- 
tential punishment, for through atonement and purification 
alone would it be able to return to the divine home whence 
it came. This process of purification and atonement was 
accomplished in two ways by the penalties of Hades, and 
by the cycle of births. We can hardly believe that two 
such different means for the attainment of a single end 
should have been combined from the beginning. For this 
reason and others, we may conjecture that the penalties of 
Hades were a later accretion to the Pythagorean doctrine 
of metempsychosis, derived from the Orphics, and fused 
with it through their influence. 

We have hitherto been acquainted with the Orphics 
merely as the founders of an original doctrine of cosmogony, 
and in that connection have obtained a purely casual insight 
into their methods of thought. To distinguish these more 
accurately, we must glance at the myth which took a central 
position in their creed. It is known as the legend of 
Dionysus Zagreus. As the son of Zeus and Persephone, 
Dionysus was still a child when his heavenly father en- 
trusted him with the empery of the world. He was per- 
secuted by the Titans, who had formerly been worsted in 
their struggle with Uranus. The divine boy escaped from 
their wily attacks in divers shapes and forms, till he was 
finally caught by them in the form of a bull, whom they 
tore to pieces and devoured. His heart alone was rescued 
by Athene, and Zeus presently swallowed it in order to 
create from it "the new Dionysus." To punish the Titans 
for their crime, Zeus struck them with his thunderbolt Out 
of their ashes rose the race of mankind, whose nature 
contained both elements the Titanic and the Dionysic, 


springing from the blood of Zagreus. The Titans were 
the embodiment of the principle of evil, Dionysus of the 
principle of good, and in their fusion were contained the 
seeds of that conflict between the godlike and the ungod- 
like which occurs but too frequently in the human breast. 
Thus this strange legend, the other characteristics of which 
do not concern us here, abuts in an elucidatory myth to 
explain the duality of human nature, and to account for 
the inward conflict which rends it and bends it continually. 
This conflict went deep. The glaring contrast between 
earthly suffering and earthly imperfection on the one part, 
and heavenly bliss and heavenly purity on the other, lies 
at the heart and core of the philosophy of the Orphics 
and Pythagoreans. Hence came their longing for purifica- 
tion, for atonement and final redemption. The goal they 
aimed at was hard to attain ; a single earthly existence 
was not enough to cleanse the soul from its original sin 
and to redeem it from the defilement with which later 
misdeeds had sullied it. A long series of palingeneses 
formed a kind of continuous pilgrimage, extending through 
thousands of years, and interrupted and embittered by the 
penalties suffered by the soul in the " pool of mire." Late, 
if at all, the soul was freed from its labours, and returned 
to the starting-point of its journey. As a pure spirit once 
more, it re-entered its home and rejoined the brotherhood 
of the gods. The three gold tablets committed to the 
tombs of dead men during the fourth and third centuries 
B.C. in the neighbourhood of ancient Thurii * a district 
formerly hospitable to Pythagoreans contain some illus- 
trative references in this connection. " I escaped from the 
burdensome circle of lamentation" this was the cry of 
hope raised by the purified soul which had "fully atoned 
for its works of iniquity," and which approached "holy 
Persephone, Queen of the Shades," in the guise of "a 
suppliant for protection," proud to belong to the "blissful 
race" of that goddess and her peers in the under-world. 
They would send it "to the seats of the innocent," and 
would utter the redeeming word in its expectant ears " a 

h.IL 2. 
VOL. I. K 


god shalt thou be instead of a mortal," These series of 
verses are clearly the variant recensions of a common and 
an older text. They combine with several other fragments, 
partly belonging to the same age and to neighbouring 
localities, partly to the island of Crete and the later Roman 
epoch, to form the scanty remains of what we might 
conveniently call the Orphic "Book of the Dead." In 
them we can trace the journey of the soul in the under- 
world; their different recensions display an exact corre- 
spondence with one another as well as with the tablets of 
Thurii, and recent experience warrants the good hope 
that our information may presently be more complete. 

3. We have here to reckon with a possible fact. The 
" fall of the soul by sin " is as completely unknown to the 
texts we have just discussed as it is to the writings of 
Pindar the poet and Empedocles the philosopher, who 
are our most ancient authorities on the teachings of the 
Orphics. Both instances may be due to pure chance, for 
our information in either case is of a fragmentary character. 
But another explanation may be offered. It is conceivable 
that that central doctrine of the Orphics has undergone 
a further development, and the allegation of a cause for the 
fall of the soul " this evil, too, is the expiation of a crime " 
may have been a later accretion. Taking this assumption, 
three elements are left as native to that doctrine. First, 
we have the melancholy view of life which depreciated 
earthly existence and the goods of this world ; secondly, 
an assured confidence in the justice of the gods, who 
punished every misdeed and rewarded every merit ; and, 
thirdly, the fixed belief in the divine nature and the 
divine origin of the soul. At present we have merely to 
note that pessimistic view of life which contrasted so 
grimly with the brilliant insouciance of the Homeric age. 
We may postpone the explanation, though we marked the 
beginnings of the change as early as Hesiod. It will be 
readily conceded that Hesiod and Homer were dealing with 
different orders of the population, and stern indeed must 
have been the experience of war and peace which prepared 
the Greek mind for such gloomy views of life. A man who 


believed In the retributive justice of Heaven must have based 
his belief on a recognition of the dominion of the principle 
at least of right and law ; for it is obvious that as long as 
personal favour, or personal loyalty at best, was the govern- 
ing factor in State and society, the confidence of reasonable 
expectation could have had no leg to stand on. We have 
already referred to the nature of the belief in retribution, 
but it will assist us to understand its details if we recall 
the image of the Erinyes, for instance, who were origin- 
ally conceived as the souls of the murdered men, wrath- 
fully seeking their own revenge. The private vengeance 
of the individual and the family formed the basis of the 
penal code in earthly states, and the blood-code of the 
gods in the courts of the after-world was due to a similar 
extension. We may quote as evidence for this conclusion 
those pictures of the infernal regions where we see the 
evil-doer persecuted by the soul or avenging spirit of his 
victim. Next, it is to be noted that the direction to the 
future life given to the belief in retribution would have 
gained most ground in pessimistic times and climes. An 
Aeschylus, for instance, who held this belief more stoutly 
than any other Greek poet, hardly glances beyond the 
confines of earthly existence. The hero of Marathon was 
content with the grand spectacle of divine justice of which 
he had been the witness and abettor. Here, however, if 
we are to gain a clear understanding of the divine descent 
of the soul, we must arm ourselves against misleading 

The conception of the soul of the dead fully partici- 
pating in the bliss of the gods, joining their table, sharing 
their carouses, and abandoning itself to all kinds of sensual 
enjoyment, was common to the ancient Indians and 
Germans, as well as to the Indians of Central America, 
and probably to the Thracians too. It should be clearly 
stated that it had next to nothing in common with 
the main lines of the Orphic doctrine, and it is equally 
illegitimate to refer that belief in the higher nature of the 
soul to the mere evidence of spiritual phenomena which 
are the property of the mystics of all countries and times. 


The goals at which the religious mystic aims have 
everywhere and always been the same. By direct inter- 
course and gradual assimilation, he strives after a final 
identification with his god. But though the aim be 
uniform, the ways which lead to it are many. Some 
have accompanied their progress by the beating of drums, 
the tinkling of cymbals, and the shrilling of flutes, 
Others approach their deity through the sensuous mazes 
of the dance, and others, again, seek his presence by an 
absorption in monotonous contemplation or by the hypnotic 
trance engendered by continuous gazing at some gleaming 
object. By this means the Maenad of Greece, the Brahman 
ascetic, the Mohammedan dervish, and the Buddhistic monk 
were exalted to ecstasy, were relieved of the burden of 
self-consciousness, and were admitted to the freedom of 
the godhead or of the source of light. In wide circles 
of the people, as soon as the storm of a spiritual epidemic 
of that kind had blown over, the nervous frenzy or 
stupefaction would be succeeded by the "mysterion," or 
" sacramentum," which gave the true believer the feeling 
of identity with the godhead and freed him for awhile from 
the burdensome coil of individual existence. Those acts 
and excitements, by which man lost his manhood and felt 
himself a god we need but mention the Bacchants and 
Sabazians, the Ras and Osirises of Egypt, and the like 
were superseded by symbolic ceremonies, by the bearing 
of holy vessels, the tasting of sacred food and drink, and 
occasionally by symbolic sexual unions, all of which cere- 
monies helped to create the illusion of an identity with the 
gods, wherein we meet the essence of the Greek mysteries, 
connected with Bacchus, Eleusis, and so forth. Religion was 
here, as elsewhere, wholly divorced from morality. Since the 
ecstasy loosened each and every restraint, it tended to im- 
morality rather than its converse, and the enthusiasm of the 
Bacchanalia has always formed a striking contrast with the 
strict propriety of respectable conduct. It is a contrast 
which renders it superfluous to speak of certain hole-in-a- 
corner mysteries, the excesses of which were a disgrace to 
Greece no less than to pther countries. But in tracing 


the development of human altruism, which was at first 
confined to the circle of family sentiments, we see that 
the gods were exalted from their original non-moral 
attributes to the rank of guardians and protectors of all 
that State and society held dear; and the refinement of 
the new ideals which was shed on the objects of worship 
reacted in turn on the worshippers. Thus the mystic rites 
of Greek religion, with the important mysteries of Eleusis 
sacred to the infernal deities at their head, became by 
no means wholly indifferent to the claims of morality. 
Evildoers were excluded from the rites which gave their 
participants a foretaste of eternal bliss, .and the prohibition 
was probably not confined to the class of murderers alone. 
The Orphics too possessed a mystic cult, of which we 
know little more than that it embodied the chief myth of 
that sect, though this embodiment fell behind theJElgifc. 
sinian representation of the myth of Demeter in JtSL. 
'^sggguous^and bnlliant 'qualities. TJut 'the grand feature 
^wHicITcJistinguishes the Orphic" branch of Greek religion 
from the rest of the mysteries was the consistent energetic 
force of its morality, the sole approximation to which 
was found in the religion of Apollo with its centre at 
Delphi. In the emphasis which was laid on the ethical 
consciousness we are justified in recognizing the essential 
portion of the third, the most significant and the most 
characteristic part of the Orphic doctrine of the soul. 

A parallel will help to make our meaning clearer. In 
chapter cxxv. of the Egyptian "Book of the Dead," 
there is contained a negative confession of sin which reads 
like a long-drawn-out version of what is epitomized in a 
few words on the gold tablets of Lower Italy to which 
allusion has so frequently been made. In both, the 
soul of the dead man emphatically calls itself " pure," and 
it is solely on the ground of this purity that it bases its 
claim to everlasting bliss. But here a distinction is to be 
noted. The soul of the Orphic worshipper contends that it 
has done atonement for its " works of iniquity," and there- 
fore is conscious of its freedom from their consequent 
pollution. The soul of the Egyptian, on the contrary, 


recounts the full tale of the iniquities which it avoide 
in its earthly pilgrimage. There are not many facts i 
the history of religion and morality which are so we 
calculated to arouse our astonishment as the archives c 
this ancient confessional. Sins against the ceremonial la 1 
are mentioned in it, but not in any great numbe 
And by the side of the precepts of civil morality commo 
to all ethical codes we find traces there of a refinemer 
of moral feeling in an uncommon and partly in a surprisin 
degree. The following quotations will illustrate th 
point : 

" I have not oppressed the widow. 

< I have not withdrawn the milk from the mouth of tl 

" I have not made the poor man poorer. 

" I have not made the journeyman work beyond his contracte 

" I was not negligent ; I was not idle. 

" I have not traduced the slave to his employer* 

" I have not made any man's tears to flow." 

Moreover, the ethical teaching which shines between th 
lines of this confession enjoined acts of positive benevolenc 
as well as the avoidance of wrongdoing. The soul of th 
departed cries out, "I have spread the canopy of jo 
everywhere ; I have fed the hungry, given drink to th 
thirsty, clothed the naked. I have provided a boat fc 
the retarded voyager/' and so forth. Finally, the righteoi; 
soul, its long discipline over, attains to the chorus of th 
gods. " My impurity is cleansed," it cries, with exultatioi 
" and the sin that lay on me is cast off. I reach this Ian 
of the blessed, and ye who stand before me " the goc 
mentioned just now "reach me your hands : I am becom 
one of you." 

It is impossible for us to decide whether the parall< 
which confronts us here is a mere accidental likeness, c 
the result of historical causation. But we should remembe 
in this context that the development of the Orphic doctrin 
ensued and ensued by no means remotely on the begir 
nings of an intimate intercourse between Egypt and Greeo 


The Greeks, too, it will be noted, looked up to the monu- 
ments of Egyptian architecture and sculpture with reverent 
sentiments of awe. To borrow Plato's expression, they 
with their young civilization felt themselves mere "children," 
when they contemplated the hoary institutions of Egypt 
It would not, accordingly, be surprising if they had 
borrowed from that source religious and ethical features 
of far-reaching significance. We must leave to the 
investigators of the future the task of deciding this 
question by a final and impartial judgment For our 
purposes, the example drawn from Egypt is sufficient to 
show the connection in other countries too between a 
deeper conception of morality and the belief in the divine 
nature of the soul. And if we mark the discrepancy 
between the exalted demands which a man of fine ethical 
ideals makes on his will and sentiment and the brutish 
instincts which so frequently oppose the satisfaction of 
those demands, we shall see that nothing could be more 
natural. This discrepancy would obviously contribute to 
the belief that a deep gulf was fixed between the two 
parts of human nature, and that they could by no means 
have sprung from the same source. This view of human 
nature, dividing it in its elements into alien and hostile 
halves, must have reacted favourably on the development 
of the conscience and on its struggle against impulses 
inimical to good and human deeds. But all light has its 
shadow, and the shadow in this instance was the duality 
of self, the disturbance of man's mental harmony, the 
hostility to nature, and the ascetic abnegation of its 
harmless and even of its wholesome demands. All these 
features are combined in this ancient system of Puritanism 
which brought in its train a long series of unprofitable 
customs and unlovely versions of mythology. The move- 
ment in itself was a great one, dimmed though its great- 
ness has been by these tributary accretions. 

We shall gain a better knowledge of the origin of the 
movement if we take in consideration the historical condi- 
tions under which it arose. The religious crisis was clearly 
a reflex of the social crisis. It was the accompaniment 


of the battle of the classes which filled the seventh 
century and a part of the sixth. Distress, as ever, was 
the mother of prayer ; and the first to gaze with longing 
eyes at a more blissful future, and to look to the gods to 
redress the inequalities of earth, were doubtless the victims 
of conquest and of the harsh rule of the oligarchs. At 
least it may be stated with certainty that Orphicism took 
its rise among the middle classes, and not among the 
nobles. A prominent tenet in the creed of its adherents 
was their horror of bloodshed, and this moral idea points 
to a class of society which neither yearned for warlike 
renown nor was famous for its prowess in arms. Further, 

'Justice and Law, which occupy as Dike and Nomos a high 
place in the Orphic pantheon, have always been mentioned 
in the prayers of the weak and oppressed rather than of 
the strong and mighty. It is almost legitimate in this 
connection to speak of a conscious opposition to the life 
and ideals of tne ruling classes no less than of an^open 

..rebelliojti^agaiust.the . Jjiiling^jeligion,.. To this last factor 
it is due that the Thracian god Dionysus, who was a 
comparatively late arrival in the Hellenic heaven, took so 
prominent a place in the system of the Orphics. It is 
important, moreover, to note that when the new religion 
proceeded to build up its mythical structure it took no 
account of heroic deeds, such as those of Hercules, the 
heavenly aristocrat, but it exalted the unmerited "suffer- 
ings " of a popular god like Dionysus. Take the story of 
the wicked Titans and of the helpless child Dionysus, 
and we perceive that it reflects as in a mirror the insolence 
of the violent oppressor whom the vengeance of heaven 
will overtake at the last, and the impotence of the blame- 
less sufferer whose confidence in Justice will be crowned 
with ultimate victory. It must be acknowledged that this 
was not the original meaning of the legend. It was 
rather intended to explain, as has been conjectured 
with reasonable certainty, a rude orgy of sacrificial rites 
in which live animals were torn to pieces and devoured. 
But in this instance, as in others, religious imagination 
transformed the material at its disposal, invested it with 


a new meaning, and turned it to the purpose of new ideas. 
There were two factors at work to promote the opposition 
to the nobles, who were at once the trustees of the State 
religion and the guardians of the national traditions : first, \ 
the courts of the tyrants, and, secondly, the conventicles of 
the Orphics. If the view we have taken be correct, 
Orphics and tyrants alike were the representatives of the 
same classes of the people of the citizens, that is to say, 
who were devoid of rights, and of the peasants who had 
bowed their neck.* The parallel works out with remark- 
able closeness. Take the case of Clisthenes, for example. 
It was he who broke up the oligarchy in Sicyon, and 
substituted grossly abusive epithets for the grand old 
titles of the Doric tribes ; and it was he, again, who forbade 
the recital of the Homeric poems, who deprived Adrastus, 
the national hero and demigod, of his honours, and tacked 
them on to Dionysus. The resemblance may further be 
traced in the political habits of those dynasties. They 
were eager to form alliances with foreign potentates, and 
some of their members the instance of Corinth occurs to 
us even went so far as to adopt outlandish names from 
Phrygia or Egypt such as Gordius and Psammetich. In 
precisely the same way the Orphic worshippers introduced 
gods from Thrace and Phoenicia the Kabiroi by the side 
of the Hellenic deities, and were not averse, as we have 
been at pains to show, from adapting their cosmogony to 
the teachings of Egypt and Babylon.f Taking all these 
points into consideration, it was plainly something more 
than mere chance that Onomacritus, the founder of the 
Orphic community at Athens, enjoyed the protection of 
the Pisistratides, and dwelt as a guest at their court. 

In the course of our inquiry, we shall frequently 
have occasion to cross the path of Orphicism. We shall 
become acquainted with the fruits of its harvest, and mark 
the misgrowths that disfigured it We shall see the 
influence that it exercised on Plato, and through him on 
posterity. And here we shall hardly fail to note that 
the psychical dualism which divided body and soul was 
* Vide Introd., 2. t ?&* Ch. II. 3- 


extended and expanded at this point to a real dualism 
between the world and the Deity. This consequence was 
implicit in the fundamental principles of Orphicism, though 
the Orphics never drew it themselves. They acquiesced 
in an enlightened Pantheism, in which the chief' stress 
was laid on the unity of universal life. Finally, we 
shall watch the descent of the mighty stream in the clear 
light of the wonderful discoveries of modern times, and 
especially of the restoration of the "Apocalypse of St. 
Peter." The sources of that stream are still shrouded in 
obscurity, but the sun has risen on the era of early 
Christianity to which it flows, and on the wide reaches of 
that movement in which its current can be traced. 

4. The origin of Orphicism is obscure to this day, but 
it may be stated without hesitation that it was crossed at 
an early date by the beginnings of Pythagorism. There 
is internal evidence in support of this view, and there is, 
further, the authority of trustworthy traditions. The names 
of men are mentioned in antiquity as the authors of Orphic 
poems who are partly known to us as members of the 
Pythagorean circle, and partly as dwellers in precisely 
those regions Lower Italy and Sicily where the 
doctrines of Pythagoras were first and most widely sown. 
We have, accordingly, to resign all attempts to draw a 
clear line of demarcation, but in the region which more 
particularly concerns us we are able to point to tenets 
which, on traditional grounds and by internal testimony, 
we may describe as Pythagorean rather than as Orphic. 
The Orphics, for instance, were satisfied to locate the soul 
between one incarnation and another in the reformatories 
of Hades, but the Pythagoreans, with their more scientific 
tendencies, went on to ask how it happened that there 
was always a soul at hand and ready to enter a body 
whenever and wherever a new being came into existence. 
In this respect, as they perceived, it was immaterial whether 
they took the moment of conception, or the moment of 
birth, or some period of time between the two. Having 
posed this question, they went on to answer it themselves. 
They pointed to the example of the particles of dust in 


the sunlight There they were provided with corpuscles 
which surround us on all sides, and which we inhale with 
every breath we draw, but which stand on the border-line 
of perceptibility, and are not visible till the sunlight falls 
on them. It is true, indeed, that the continuous vibration 
of those sensitive particles of dust, even when the air was 
apparently quite still, reminded the observer of the cease- 
less motion which was ascribed to the soul, and thus 
assisted the identifying process ; but even without this 
adventitious aid the theory was intelligible, and from its 
author's point of view was an eminently reasonable one. 
It was customary at that epoch to regard the soul, not as 
an immaterial being, but as one so finely composed of 
matter as to be invisible or hardly visible. Thus the 
question and its answer were alike completely justified. 
Modern science, it may be added, has reached a well- 
founded conclusion on precisely the same lines. It has 
observed that certain lower organisms are spontaneously 
engendered wherever the conditions are favourable to their 
development, and hence it has inferred that the air is full 
of invisible germs of that kind. 

We are far less completely acquainted with the 
theology of the Pythagoreans. There is no evidence to 
show that their theology stood in any kind of sharp 
contrast with the popular religion. It exhibits an ap- 
parent leaning to monotheism, or, according to other 
accounts, to a sort of dualism. In this connection we are 
reminded of the fantastic theory of numbers, which identified 
unity, as the principle of good, with the godhead, and 
duality, as the principle of evil, with the material world. 
But such speculations, in so far as they are credible at all, 
clearly belong to later phases in the development of the 
Pythagorean doctrine. It is otherwise, as it seems, with 
the dogmas of the exhalation of the world, which makes 
it appear as an animate being, and of the origin of 
the world, which was supposed to have started from 
one point and to have been continued and completed 
by the attraction of that point on its nearest surround- 
ings and on ever-wider portions of space. But tenets 


of this kind bear the unmistakable mark of the child- 
hood of science. Of far greater importance is a doctrine 
of equal antiquity for which we depend on the authority 
of a very striking remark by Eudemus. Eudemus was a 
pupil of Aristotle whose careful study of the history of 
astronomy and geometry must have given him an exact in- 
sight into Pythagorism, and in one of his lectures on the 
conception of time and of temporal identity he uttered the 
following words : " If we are to believe the Pythagoreans, 
I shall once more gossip among you with this little staff in 
my hand, and again as now will ye be sitting before me, 
and likewise will it be with all the rest." The excellent 
Eudemus merits our hearty thanks for having let slip this 
allusion in the heat of his discourse, and we shall be hardly 
less grateful to his industrious disciples who preserved the 
remark in their note-books for the benefit of posterity. 
The delightful picture is conjured up vividly before our 
eyes : the master sitting on his marble chair, smiling at 
his humorous fancy and playing with the badge of his 
office ; the pupils facing him in long rows of seats, and 
listening half puzzled, half amused. But the thoughts that 
are contained in this brief piece of information are virtually 
inexhaustible, and, it may be said at once, they redound to 
the greatest credit of the Pythagoreans. For the pregnant 
little sentence is neither more nor less than an unconditional 
surrender to the theory of universal law. It is an inference 
derived with strict logical precision from the union of that 
theory with the belief in cyclical succession. Anaximander 
and Heraclitus have already familiarized us with this 
belief, and since we shall presently meet it again in Empe- 
docles and in far later authors, it will be well to consider 
more closely the question of its origin. 

To this end we must revert to the motives of cosmogonic 
speculation as such. The problem of the origin of the 
world was first and chiefly obtruded on men's minds by 
their daily experience of the rise and decay of fresh visible 
objects. For what was found to be true of single objects 
was believed to be true of their totality, the world. At 
a later stage an impulse was added by all the real and 


supposed evidences of order and regularity in the world, 
especially by the existence of Air, Earth, and Sea, 
the three vast agglomerations of homogeneous matter, 
which never quite came to be regarded as primordial. 
Further and finally, the process was assisted by the 
changes that close observation revealed on the surface 
of the globe, such as the formation of deltas, the shifting 
of land and sea, and so forth. The earlier experi- 
ments in cosmogony had commonly been confined to 
the presumption and description of a beginning of the 
existing order ; they had rarely gone on to ask what 
preceded that beginning, and whether or not the existing 
order would endure till eternity. Thus a second problem 
awaited the more mature development of thought, and 
when the philosophers approached it they were confronted 
with the_ alternative supposition of an absolute beginning 
and an absolute end, or of a cosmic process without 
beginning or end in the proper sense of those terms. 
The Greek thinkers, who were apt at seizing analogies 
serious, as a rule, though not always well-interpreted, 
adopted at once and with practical unanimity the 
second alternative of a ceaseless process of transformation 
without a proper beginning and without a proper end. 
And here, too, there was a parting of the ways. Geo- 
metrically speaking, the cosmic process might be com- 
pared either with a trajectory or with a cycle. As the 
one it would be a journey to an unknown goal, as the 
other it would be a circular course of phenomena always 
returning to its starting-point. And with these alterna- 
tives before him the Greek thinker could not hesitate 
which to choose. There was no decisive analogy to impel 
him to adopt the first. In favour of the cyclical theory 
he could quote the spectacle of dec 
which constantly renewed itself hT'tlie life of 
it was further supported by the circulation of matter, the 
recognition of which may have been the original motive 
of the doctrine of primary matter, and which Heraclitus, at 
least, presents with complete clearness of expression. And 
to this uniformity of natural life there was but a single 


exception ; the souls of the dead, whether they were 
regarded as shadows in Hades or were exalted to the seats 
of the blessed, broke the law of cyclical succession. At the 
same time the doctrine of metempsychosis, which itself 
depended to some extent on the more general analogy, 
was calculated to redress the harmony which this single 
exception disturbed. Furthermore, the circulation of the 
seasons must have been of paramount significance. We 
can conceive nothing more convincing than the regular 
return of the great gleaming luminaries with the 
beneficent powers that they exercised on natural and 
human life, and the consequent veneration they enjoyed 
as beings of a godlike order. We may parenthetically 
note at this point the greatest boon which astronomy 
conferred on mankind. It was the first science which com- 
bined the notions of God and law. It spread the halo of 
divinity over the conceptions of order and rule, and, more 
than that, it preserved the conception of divine dominion 
from the risk of ultimate and inseparable confusion with 
that of arbitrary power. 

Thus, then, the belief was reached in the cyclical suc- 
cession of phenomena. It acquired a more rigid shape 
by its adaptation to the doctrine of the "world-year" or 
"great year" due to the astronomical researches of the 
Babylonians or perhaps of still older civilized peoples which 
had extended over thousands of years. From such obser- 
vations and their consequences men came to recognize or 
guess at immense tracts of time. The solar year, for 
example, stood to the world-year of Babylon in the relation 
of a second to a day a second equal to two of our own 
seconds, since the Babylonians divided the day into twelve 
instead of twenty- four hours. And the great year of this 
computation was itself but a day in the life of the universe. 
If we look for the motive of these gigantic units of time, 
we shall doubtless find it in the belief that the rest of 
the heavenly luminaries, whose changes of position had 
become discernible by observations extending over a series 
of centuries, were governed by the same laws as the sun, 
nioon, and stars, which returned after regular intervals 


to the positions they had originally occupied. The 
framework of astronomy thus devised in the East was 
filled up by the cyclical doctrines of Hellenic as well as of 
Indian philosophers. Our readers are already acquainted 
with Heraclitus's belief in the periodical consumption of 
the world by fire.* The Babylonians had likewise assumed 
periodical conflagrations and floods. But while we render 
all honour to the wide intellectual horizon of the authors of 
this conception, we cannot but characterize its details as 
fantastic in the extreme. Their conflagration was fixed for 
the time when all the planets should be congregated in the 
sign of Cancer, and their flood for the date of their meeting 
in Capricorn. It is perfectly clear that this rested on the 
fact that the division of the zodiac which the sun reaches 
at the period of the summer solstice is associated with 
burning heat, whereas that of the winter solstice is asso- 
ciated with pouring deluge. The Pythagoreans apparently 
kept free from this wild play of associated ideas, though their 
theory of a " double destruction " by the fall of heavenly 
fire and of the lunar water would appear to have been 
influenced by the Babylonian doctrines But the remark- 
able theory which Eudemus reports to us cannot otherwise 
be explained than by the presumption of a cyclical disso- 
lution of existing cosmic or earthly conditions. We cannot 
admit that it is directly derivable from the theory of the 
world-year by the intermediate maxim, "when the stars 
resume their former places, all occurrences will repeat 
themselves as before." Such an admission would ascribe to 
the Chaldean astrology a quite unwarranted influence on 
Pythagorism, no trace of which is elsewhere perceptible. 
On the contrary, Theophrastus himself, a fellow-pupil of 
Eudemus, expresses the greatest astonishment at the 
sham-science of Babylon which then became known in 
Greece. And it is equally inadmissible, in our opinion, 
to drag in the transmigration of souls to account for 
this doctrine. In the first place, it was eagerly adopted 
by the later school of the Stoics, who did not believe in 
metempsychosis ; secondly, the soul, as we shall presently 
* Vide Ch. I. 5 (p. 64). 


have reason to show, was not conceived in the whole course 
of this period as the sum of the intellectual or moral 
qualities by which the individual is constituted, and apart 
altogether from these objections, the doctrine of the trans- 
migration of souls does not explain what needs explanation. 
The theory we are dealing with requires the simultaneous 
resurrection of innumerable men in the identical shapes of 
body as well as of soul. Furthermore, if Eudemus was 
to come to life again with the same corporal and psychical 
disposition which clothed him at that moment, his physical 
progenitors and their ancestors in turn, no less than the 
whole series of his intellectual forebears, Aristotle his 
master, and his masters Plato, Socrates, and so forth, must 
previously have returned to existence. Again, if the staff 
which he was then swinging was to be placed in his hands 
once more, the tree from which it was cut must have grown 
afresh, it must have sprung from the same seed and taken 
root in the same soil as aforetime. But we need not 
elaborate these details ; we are doubtless correct in assuming 
that Eudemus was merely exemplifying for his own disciples 
and contemporaries a universal law which he deemed valid 
for all other generations and events. Briefly stated, each 
several recurrence of all existing persons, things, and phe- 
nomena can solely be accomplished by the fresh unwinding 
of a finished web of causation. And here we believe we are 
confronted, not with a contingent circumstance, but with the 
central essence of the doctrine. It embraces two conditions : 
First, the belief in the strict causal concatenation of every- 
thing that happens ; secondly, the belief in a fresh and abso- 
lutely similar starting-point for this series of causation. It 
is with no sense of surprise that we discover the first condi- 
tion in Pythagorism. We have already met it in Heraclitus 
in passages which we correctly interpreted as the echo of 
the fundamental innovations introduced by Pythagoras into 
physics. And the theory of numbers itself is at bottom 
nothing but a belief in the rule of universal law embracing 
all occurrences. In this connection we note that Heraclitus 
drew no sharp line of demarcation between psychical and 
physical processes, and we have no reason to be surprised 


at what we may call the natural and naive determinism 
of an age when the problem of will had not yet been formu- 
lated. We reach now the second premiss of the Pytha- 
gorean doctrine contained in the remark of Eudemus. It 
is merely the assertion of the principle with almost mathe- 
matical precision of the cyclical recurrence of an original 
condition of the world. The presumption of the same 
natural factors in equal number and like distribution, and 
pervaded by the same powers, is itself the presumption of 
a source from which the stream of causation, flowing a 
second time, will reproduce its occurrences with faithful 
and detailed exactitude. Now, is it legitimate, we may 
ask, for those of our own philosophers who expect 
that the solar system at least will return to its starting- 
point, to draw the same conclusions which the Pytha- 
goreans drew? The resisting medium with which space 
is presumably filled is to effect a gradual decay of the 
original impulse of planetary motion ; it is to bring about 
the prevalence of the central attraction, which is con- 
stantly renewed, and it is finally to cause the precipitation 
of the planets into the sun, which will be followed by the 
production of an immense amount of heat and by the trans- 
formation of the whole system into that nebulous mass from 
which it first proceeded. Starting from these premises, 
must we not reach the conclusion of a universal and minute 
repetition of all earthly processes ? The conclusion is 
unavoidable, we reply, provided that the region which is 
occupied by the sun, the planets, and their satellites be 
enclosed in a kind of ring-fence, shut in and shut out on 
all sides. But there is no district of the universe which 
can be compared with Fichte's "close community." Not 
to speak of the ^normous quantities of heat which in the 
course of millions of years have been radiated into space 
and have never returned, every meteorite and every 
meteoric particle which has wandered into our system 
from another sphere of attraction, or from ours into another, 
every ray of light that has passed from Sirius to the sun 
or from the sun to Sirius all have contributed to shift the 
balance of matter ?ind force in gur system in a degree 
. VOI* J, k 


which prevents the possibility of its exact reproduction from 
the beginning. The " universal formula," to adapt a well- 
known reflection of Laplace, from which a mind adequate to 
the task could deduce the whole sequence of development 
down to its smallest details could not conceivably be the 
same in both cases. It may be argued, however, that the 
whole of tlie universe, and not any part of it, should be 
taken as the field in which this process of identical causation 
is enacted. To this we reply that spectrum analysis has 
revealed to us growing worlds by the side of decaying 
worlds, so that various phases of development are simul- 
taneously exhibited in different parts of the universe. But 
neither the one nor the other of these objections could 
have occurred to the philosophers of antiquity. Once 
more they were saved by the comparative narrowness of their 
science, which permitted them, undistracted by the limi- 
tations or the misgivings of detailed knowledge, to hold fast 
to thoughts true in their essence and pregnant with great 
results. Thus they were able to think their thoughts out 
to the end, and to express them in splendid pictures which 
seize the imagination of mankind. 

The theory of cosmic uniformity spinning itself out 
without beginning or end might conceivably be pillorized 
as a joyless and comfortless doctrine. The greater, then, 
is the honour due to the author who proved himself 
completely free from the weakness of condemning a thesis 
as false, if it does not flatter the wishes of our heart. 
In searching for this author, the name of Hippasus of 
Metapontum occurs to us. He was counted among 
the Pythagoreans, but in common with Heraclitus, he 
regarded the primary matter as fire, and taught the 
doctrine of the destruction and reconstruction of the 
world in definite periods. As a thinker who followed 
in Heraclitus' footsteps, he would obviously empha- 
size the reign of universal law in natural and huma^n 
life. The Stoics, too, who looked up to Heraclitus 
with reverent awe, would not refuse to accept a theory 
which played a considerable part in their own system 
from the hands of a Pythagorean who was at the same 


time half a Heraclitean. But we must resign the hope of 
complete certainty. In all discussions of this school of 
thought it is always difficult and generally purposeless to 
attempt to draw distinctions of that kind. The very piety 
of the Pythagoreans towards the Master, on whose head 
they heaped all the honours without regard to their per- 
sonal claims, is an obstacle in the path of this inquiry. 
No field of literature is more crowded with apocryphal 
monuments, and it is on these that we have chiefly to 
depend for the record of the work of individuals. Many 
names have reached us of the earlier adherents of the 
school, but they are little more than names. The men 
and women they conceal for women too took an eager 
part in the semi-religious movement inaugurated by 
Pythagoras were united in a close community. Their 
loyalty to one another, the communistic solidarity of 
their interests, and the altruistic friendship they displayed, 
are features as characteristic of the brotherhood as their 
earnest endeavour to moderate and control their passions. 
For the ideas of harmony and measure which prevailed 
in their philosophy were likewise the ideals of their life. 
One man only, of marked individuality, is in clear relief 
against this background. His astronomy shows us that the 
influence of the early lonians was stronger than that of 
Pythagoras, but his intimate connection with some mem- 
bers at least of the Pythagorean community is obvious from 
the dedication of his work. 

5. " Alcmseon of Croton, son of Pirithous, to Brontinus, 
Leon, and Bathyllus, saith" thus runs the beginning of 
the book, which unfortunately survives but in a few frag- 
ments. "The gods alone," it continues, "possess full 
certainty touching the invisible things, but, in order to 

draw contingent conclusions after the fashion of mankind" 

here, unhappily, the sentence is interrupted like a broken 
sign-p6st on the road to truth. The physician of Croton, 
a younger contemporary of Pythagoras, was fully conscious 
of the limits of human knowledge. In departments where 
the evidence of the senses was excluded he confined him- 
self to conjectural utterances, and to the drawing of 


inferences in which we confidently expect to see traces of 
careful observation and of some regard for circumspect 
reasoning. The sentence we have quoted just now raises 
hopes of a series of detached tenets and not of a com- 
plete system embracing all things human and divine. It 
promises more because it pledges itself to less. 

Alcmseon's chief work was accomplished in the fields of 
anatomy and physiology. His claim to immortality rests 
on the fact that he was the first to recognize the brain as 
the central organ of intellectual activity. A trustworthy 
tradition relates that he used the evidence of animal dis- 
section, and his own references seem to support this 
account. By this means he discovered the chief nerves of 
sense, which he agrees with Aristotle in calling " conduits/ 1 
or " canals," and traced them to their termination in the 
brain. Modern science reinforces the functional significance 
of such anatomical facts by observations taken during 
illnesses or lesions, and Alcmseon followed the same method. 
We know for certain that he employed in this way the 
disturbances of the senses which result from concussion 
of the brain. He explained them in a rational though 
somewhat one-sided fashion by what we should call an 
interruption of the conducting lines. Deafness and blind- 
ness, according to Alcmaeon, were caused by the shifting 
of the brain out of its normal position, and by the conse- 
quent closing of the roads by which impressions of sight 
and hearing commonly reached it. The widespread 
belief that the sperma originates in the spinal marrow he 
refuted by the direct evidence of animals killed immediately 
after coition and showing no diminution of the marrow 
contained in the vertebrae. It will readily be under- 
stood that Alcmaeon's positive contributions to the theories 
of procreation and embryology could have had no particu- 
lar value. Of more importance was his doctrine concern- 
ing sickness and health, which was not without influence 
on succeeding philosophers. Health he represented as 
maintained by the equilibrium or "isonomy" of the 
material qualities existing in the body. A surplusage of 
of those qualities would be the cause of illness, and the 


cure would be effected by the restoration of the disturbed 
equilibrium, whether by natural or by artificial means. As 
" the majority of human things," including the qualities 
aforesaid, occur at once as contraries and pairs, the remedy 
was obviously easier. An excess of cold would be cured 
or corrected by an increase of heat, too much dryness by 
an antidote of moisture, and so forth. This theory enjoyed 
a long life. We meet it as late as in the writings of 
Geber, the master of the Arabian alchemists. But it was 
contracted and petrified, as it were, by the Hippocratic 
pathology of the humours, in which the causes of sickness 
were referred to the excess and undue diminution of the 
chief fluids of the body. 

Alcmseon submitted the several senses to a searching 
investigation, with the exception of the sense of touch. 
This omission redounds to his credit, inasmuch as he 
apparently disdained to fill up by arbitrary guesswork 
the blanks that could not but occur here in his scanty 
empirical knowledge. In each instance his starting- 
point was the anatomical constitution of the respective 
organs of sense. The air-hole in the ear, for example, 
he regarded as a resounding-board, and he explained the 
capacity of the tongue to reduce solid bodies to fluids, as 
a preliminary to the sensation of taste, by the moisture, 
softness, and flexibility of that member, and by its fulness 
of blood, which he called heat Furthermore, Alcmaeon 
was the first to turn his attention to the subjective im- 
pressions of sense, thus opening the path which was 
ultimately to lead to a deeper insight into the nature of 
the act of perception and of the process of cognition in 
general. Plainly, however, he merely took the first step. 
His curiosity was aroused by the photopsy in an eye 
which has received a heavy blow, and this phenomenon 
stimulated his powers of scientific imagination. It forms, 
we conceive, no mean evidence of Alcmaeon's genius for 
science that he realized the significance of this rare and 
abnormal phenomenon, and regarded it as the key to the 
normal act of vision. It was inevitable that his explana- 
tion should be crude and childish in character, He seized 


on a purely material factor, where we speak of the 
specific energy of the nerve of sense. He postulated fire 
in the eye ; and in the fire which it does not contain and 
the water which it does he found his two indispensable 
vehicles of visual perception a light-giving and a trans- 
parent element. 

The rudiments of physiology led to the rudiments of 
psychology. In this field Alcmseon's contemporaries 
confounded well-nigh indiscriminately the functions of 
the intellect, and his endeavours were directed to im- 
posing order on the chaos. He derived memory from 
sense-perception, and ideation or opinion (Doxa) from 
memory. From memory and Doxa combined he derived 
the reason or insight which distinguished human-kind 
alone from the lower orders of being. The soul, as he 
taught, was immortal, and he based his conviction on 
an argument which sounds strangely in our ears. The 
immortality of the soul was due to its likeness' to the 
immortals, and that likeness consisted in the incessant 
motion which it displayed in common with the gods, for 
sun, moon, stars, and the whole firmament were conceived 
as never at rest It is obvious that no one who held this 
belief could regard the soul as wholly immaterial ; other- 
wise he would hardly have compared it with the luminaries 
which, despite their divine and indestructible attributes, yet 
possess a body and dimension. Still less would he have 
based its claim to immortality on its resemblance to those 
luminaries in respect, not to their divinity, but to their 
ceaseless motion in space. When we come to ask what 
led Alcmseon to attribute constant motion to the soul, 
we see that he could not have derived it from the un- 
interrupted psychical processes of ideation, emotion, 
and volition. For even if he left the possibility of 
an absolutely dreamless sleep wholly out of account, he 
must have perceived that body and soul stood precisely 
on a level in this respect. Pulsation, respiration, and so 
forth, which are processes of the body, are incessant 
movements too. It is clear, then, that Alcmseon con- 
ceived "psyche" in some wider sense, which included 


the source of all spontaneous bodily processes in one 
word, as the vital force. He must actually have regarded 
it as a well-spring of force, a conception fully confirmed 
by Plato, who transformed and extended the doctrine, and 
spoke of the soul in precisely this connection as the 
" source and spring " of movement. At the present date, 
it must be added, the whole argument is very irrelevant. 
We no longer regard the stars as truly imperishable, 
and we have ceased to look elsewhere than to the chemical 
processes attendant on respiration and nutrition for the 
springs of vital force. But, to revert to Alcmseon, our philo- 
sophic physician undertook the further task of proving the 
perishability of the body. " Men perish," he wrote and his 
dictum may be extended to animals "because they are 
unable to join their beginning to their end." The words 
sound enigmatic, but they are fully illuminated by the 
context in which Aristotle, our authority, employs them. 
Alcmseon's meaning is simply this : If old age were not 
merely figuratively but literally a second ' childhood, men 
(and animals) would be able to live for ever, since a cycle 
would be created which could be constantly renewed. But 
the series of changes suffered at the various periods of 
human (and animal) life follow a progressive, and not a 
cyclical line. It is quite conceivable, therefore, that the pro- 
gress should lead to an ultimate goal. There was nothing 
to prompt Alcmaeon to adopt a third hypothesis lying out- 
side of these alternatives, that the aforesaid series of changes 
resemble a straight or a crooked line continued to infinity. 
The natural processes, by the analogy of which he was 
led, suggested but those alternatives ; and, parenthetically 
remarked, it is greatly to his credit that he used the 
analogical method, and did not acquiesce in the d priori 
assumption, " All that is created must necessarily decay." 
It is an assumption which has frequently been repeated 
from antiquity down to the most recent times, despite the 
fact that it is untenable in itself, and that, as we now know, 
it is refuted by the example of the simplest organic forma- 
tion, the protoplasm. Modern science, we may add, has 
not made much progress with this problem since the date 


of the " Father of Physiology." It recognizes changes due 
to old age which, apart from the countless injuries by which 
the complicated human organism is constantly threatened, 
tend of themselves to its final decay. But when it comes 
to the question of the causes governing these changes, the 
mists are as thick to-day as they were four and twenty 
centuries ago. 

It would be interesting to inquire more deeply into the 
intellectual life of the sage of Croton, to discover, if we 
could, his thoughts about the Deity, about primary matter, 
and the origin of the human race. But our authorities 
are dumb. And this conspiracy of silence is plainly not 
accidental. Alcmseon differed from his predecessors in not 
proposing a solution for every problem that confronted 
him. And his reticence reminds us that we are no longer 
watching the " beginnings " of Greek science. It reminds 
us that we have already crossed the threshold of the era 
in which the spirit of criticism and scepticism takes loftier 
flights than heretofore. 



" Ein metaphysischer Schluss ist entweder ein Trugschluss oder em 
versteckter Erfahrungsschluss,"H, VON HELMHOLTZ, 

( 155 ) 



I. MANY whose wanderings led them through the provinces 
of Greece about 500 B.C. would have met an aged minstrel 
sturdily stepping 1 along, and followed by a slave who 
carried his guitar and his slender household utensils. In 
the public squares and market-places he would be thronged 
by crowds of the populace, and he would offer the gaping 
multitude the commonest wares that he bore, stories of 
heroes and of the foundation of cities, of his own or alien 
manufacture. For his more trusted customers, however, he 
would dive in the recesses of his memory for stores of a 
more select kind, which his happy art would successfully 
press on the reluctant acceptation of his audience. The poor 
rhapsodist, who regarded a palatable meal as the fit reward 
for artistic fame, was the greatest and the most influential 
innovator of his age. This minstrel's calling was by no 
means remunerative, but it served to screen the perilous 
activity of the religious and philosophic missionary. The 
wrinkled and white-haired veteran had fought in the hey- 
day of youth against the national foe. At the age of five 
and twenty years, when victory crowned the standard of the 
conqueror, and Ionia became a Persian province,* Xeno- 
phanes ranged himself with the Phocseans, the most hot- 
blooded of his countrymen, to found a new home in the 
far West in the Italian townstead of Klea. The old name 
still belongs to a single soaring tower overhanging a deep- 
receding bay at the gorge of a wide valley divided by a 

* 545 B.C. 


double range of hills into three narrower chasms, with the 
snows of the Calabrian mountains in the background. Here 
Xenophanes made his home, and here, at more than ninety- 
two years old, he closed his tired eyes, bequeathing his 
work to disciples, who revered him as the master of a 
powerful and influential school. Oblivion has fallen on 
the epic poems that he wrote, describing in thousands of 
verses the foundation of piny Colophon, his mother-city, 
and the settlement in Elea. But many a precious 
fragment remains of his didactic poem with its philosophic 
depth of thought, as well as of his fascinating elegies, 
pointing to so much genuine wit and genial warmth in 
their author, whom one cannot but love and honour as a 
man of fearless mind and unimpeachable intentions. 
True, he poured the vials of his scorn over much that 
was dear to the heart of his people; the figures of the 
epic gods were especially reserved for his indignation on 
account of the example they supplied. Homer and Hesiod, 
he maintained, taught men no better lessons than "theft, 
adultery, and mutual deceit." And, generally, the anthropo- 
morphic conception of the divine aroused his most vehement 
opposition. If bulls, horses, and lions, he argued, had 
hands to paint pictures or mould statues, they would 
represent the gods as lions, horses, and bulls, just as men 
represent them in their own image. And Xenophanes 
stood equally aloof from other departments of national 
life, which he regarded with no less hostility. In his 
view it was the height of absurdity to crown the victor in the 
boxing match or wrestling bout, in the foot-race or chariot- 
race, with the highest honours. And it seemed to increase 
the humiliating aspect of his own fortune in life when he 
saw the brilliant reception accorded by the mass of the 
people to the brute strength of the prize-fighter. " It is 
ill done," wrote Xenophanes, "to cherish the strength of 
the body higher than beneficent wisdom," and "better is 
our wisdom than the strength of horses and men." " Thus, 
one after another, he attacked the institutions sacred to 
Greek tradition. He had no more respect for the high, 
heavenly images of earthly existence than for the worship 


of the powers of the human body and of the beauty of 
man. It is impossible to pursue this inquiry without 
asking how it happened that Xenophanes broke away so 
suddenly from the habits of his own people, and whence 
he derived this reaction from the national standards of 
sensibility and thought a reaction which opened and 
pointed the way to the boldest innovations of later times. 
The answer is found in the ominous decree of history, 
of which Xenophanes was a witness in the impres- 
sionable days of youth. He saw Ionia fall before the 
sceptre of the Great King. He saw its inhabitants bow 
with hardly a show of resistance to the yoke of the 
stranger. Phocaea and Teos alone chose freedom in 
exile before bondage at home, and the rising generation 
which watched these stirring events could not but feel 
their influence in its views on life and the world. Self- 
knowledge and reform have at all times been the message 
which great minds have received from the downfall of 
their country and the loss of national independence. 
When Napoleon had triumphed over Germany, and Jena 
and Auerstadt had been fought and lost, national senti- 
ment and historical Romanticism began to succeed to the 
reign of Rationalism and cosmopolitan ideas, and a no 
less far-reaching change took place after the victories of 
Cyrus over the Greeks of Asia Minor. That crushing 
defeat could not satisfactorily be accounted for by 
blaming the luxury and effeminacy of Oriental life. 
Xenophanes did not fail to accuse the upper "thousand" 
of his fellow-citizens who had "previously learnt useless 
splendour from the Lydians, and had walked across the 
market-place clothed in purple and dripping with unguents." 
But his penetrating wisdom did not stop at this point He 
subjected to a searching examination the moral standards 
and the ideals of the people, their masters and their 
sources; and it is not to be wondered at that a man 
of penetrating intellect and character should have de- 
nounced as the root of the evil the materialized religion 
of the Greeks, and the epic poetry, its mouthpiece, with 
which the rhapsodist would be but too well acquainted. 


Though his heart bled at the necessity, yet he tore himself 
away from the traditions of his nation ; he turned his back, 
not merely on his dishonoured country but on the ideals 
that it cherished. The iconoclastic criticism that he 
practised was eminently favoured by his long period of 
vagabondage, which he himself computed at no less 
than sixty-seven years, with the exceptional breadth of 
his horizon in the world of space and time. Nor was 
his withering sarcasm confined to the contradictions, the 
absurdities, and the degrading features of the legends of 
the gods and heroes. He scrutinized the workshop of 
anthropomorphism with all the discrepancies and con- 
trarieties of its various religious products. Xenophanes 
knew that the negro represented his gods as snub-nosed 
and black, whereas the gods of the Thracians displayed 
blue eyes and red hair ; and the philosopher could conceive 
no reason why the Greeks should be right, but the 
Thracians and negroes wrong. His acquaintance with 
the Phoenician lament for Adonis did not exclude an 
acquaintance with the Egyptian lament for Osiris, and 
his ban fell on both alike and on the allied rites of the 
Greeks. When they wept for their dead gods, he scorn- 
fully bade them take their choice; let them mourn such 
beings as mortal men or worship them as immortal gods. 
Thus Xenophanes was the first to use the methods of 
indirect attack and of mutual demolition which rest on 
comparison and parallelism methods which proved such 
effective weapons in the war against positive tenets and 
dogmas when wielded by a Voltaire or a Montesquieu. 

2. But the sage of Colophon, like the sage of Ferney, was 
not a mere mocker at religion, Xenophanes too worshipped 
" a Supreme Being," for 

" There is a greatest god among gods as well as among men, 
Nor is he mortal in form, nor is his thought as a mortal's." 

This god is not the creator of the universe : he is neither 
outside the world nor above it; but though never ex- 
pressly so called, he is, virtually, the soul or spirit of 
the universe. In a passage of Aristotle, which is plainly a 


transcript and not deductive in character, we are told that 
" Xenophanes looked at the whole structure of heaven, and 
declared this One to be the Deity." And Timon the 
Phliasian,* who composed a satiric poem ridiculing the 
teachings of philosophy, puts the following words in the 
mouth of Xenophanes : " Wherever I turn my mind, every- 
thing resolves itself in a single Unity." Our thinker him- 
self says of his supreme god that "he governs everything 
by the power of his mind," and we should be inclined to 
discover a dualistic tendency in that phrase if it were not 
corrected by expressions that meet us at the same time. 
The god is denied the possession of human members and 
organs when he is said by Xenophanes "to see and hear 
and think as a Whole," but he is not therefore regarded 
as outside the conditions of space. And when we further 
read of him that " he clings undisturbed to the same place, 
and is averse from every movement," this description 
expressly shows that he is extended in space, as the 
universe, we may add, is immovable and changeless as a 
whole, though this cannot be predicated of its parts. At 
, this point we cannot help smiling at the sight of the stout 
assailant of anthropomorphism made the victim of an an- 
thropomorphic attack. The changeless rest of the Supreme 
Deity is justified on the ground that " it does not beseem 
him to wander hither and thither." It is a striking phrase 
but it obviously means nothing more than that the chief 
of the gods must not hurry officiously to and fro like an 
obsequious serving-man ; he must cultivate the majestic 
inactivity of a king on his throne. But the conception of 
the Highest Being hovering between mind and matter 
may be proved with certainty on other grounds as well. 
Dualistic theism is as alien to the predecessors of Xeno- 
phanes as to his contemporaries and followers, and the 
philosopher's " God-Nature " is not a jot more remarkable 
than the Primary Being of Anaximander, which was at 
once material and divine, or the thought-endowed Fire of 
Heraclitus. The system of the disciples of Xenophanes did 
not afford any room for a creator of the world, or for the 
* Born circa 300 B.C. 


deliberate methods of a master- craftsman, still less for a 
heavenly father manifesting his anxiety by single acts of 
interference, or for a judge dispensing punishments and 
rewards. Yet who would ever have thought of regarding 
the Eleatic metaphysicians as the disciples of Xenophanes 
if they had differed from him, who was theologian far more 
than metaphysician, in respect to his fundamental theory 
of the godhead ? And when we come to the question of 
Xenophanes as a Pantheist, we see that there was nothing 
so terribly novel in his views. They fall into their place 
in the development of the popular religion, depending 
on the growing conviction of the uniformity of nature 
and on the heightened standard of the moral conscious- 
ness. At the root of the popular religion there lay the 
bias to nature-worship, and in so far it might be more 
correct to speak of reaction than of innovation. The 
reformer in this instance was in no slight degree a restorer 
as well. Beneath the ruins of the temple which he 
destroyed he discovered another and an older sanctuary. 
He removed the anthropomorphic stratum of religion, 
which was the exclusive contribution of the Greeks 
embodied in the poems of Homer and Hesiod, and laid 
bare the earlier stratum which was common to the Aryans, 
and which had been preserved intact by thg JjQclians and 
^especially^by. the , Persians as th ej^Tigjop nf r> atutg. At this 
point we are confronted by the contentious problem 
whether or not Xenophanes admitted individual gods by 
the side of his universal Being. Literary authorities, 
whose evidence is now recognized as worthless, have 
denied it ; but an affirmative answer is given by utter- 
ances of the philosopher himself, the authenticity of which 
is beyond dispute. We refer especially to an explanation 
of the relation of the lower gods to the supreme god, 
which is vouched for as genuine by an imitation in 
Euripides. That relation was not intended to recall the 
attitude of an overlord to his serfs. The rule of law is 
precisely the contrary of the rule of might, and it is the 
recognition of universal order and uniformity which meets 
qur eyes in that utfer^ncQ. Nor is there the remotQSt 


reason to withhold our acceptance from this solution. It 
is obvious that the sage of Colophon would never have 
addressed his prayers to the children of Leto and the 
white-armed consort of Zeus. He regarded it as a 
delusion, which it was his duty to combat to the utmost, 
that "the gods, as mortals believed, were born and 
possessed the sensibility, the voice, and the form of mortal 
men." At the same time, his philosophy was quite as 
reluctant as that of his contemporaries and predecessors 
to admit a conception of nature at once soulless and god- 
less. The Orphics had emphasized the uniformity of cosmos, 
but had in no wise denied the multiplicity of divine beings ; 
Heraclitus had tolerated subordinate deities by the side of 
his thought-endowed First Fire ; Plato and Aristotle them- 
selves had shrunk from immolating the star-gods to their 
supreme Deity; and pure monotheism in its strict exclusive- 
ness was always regarded by Greek minds as a sacrilege. 
This, then, being the rule, it would have been hardly less 
than a miracle if Xenophanes, a man of deep religious 
feeling and of .essentially Greek modes of thought, had 
formed an exception to the rule at so early a date. There 
is much to foster the belief, and nothing at all to gainsay it, 
that Xenophanes paid divine homage to the great factors 
of nature. The master of the Eleatics was not the pioneer 
of monotheism ; he was rather the herald of a pantheism 
corresponding to the natural bent of his countrymen, and 
saturated in the civilization of his age. 

3. The account of the genius of Xenophanes is not 
exhausted by this survey. The poet and thinker was like- 
wise a student and scholar of the first rank, and in this 
capacity he was praised or blamed by his younger con- 
temporary Heraclitus.* The surprise that we might have 
experienced at the multifarious activity of the sage has 
already been discounted, for it was plainly his search for 
knowledge that put the pilgrim's staff in his hand, and 
" drove his musing mind to and fro in Greece " for many 
restless decades. He would have sought rather than avoided 
the farthest boundaries of the wide colonial area, for it was 

* Bk. I. Ch. I. 5 (p. 65). 
VOL. i. 'M 


precisely at these outposts of Hellenic culture, among the 
Egyptians of Naucratis or the Scythians of Olbia, that the 
wayfarer would have been most welcome. Like a modern 
lecturer from a European country in St. Louis or New York, 
he brought a message from the seat of national learning 
Thus in an age in which personal inquiry was far more 
important than book-knowledge, Xenophanes had ample op- 
portunity of gathering and utilizing the richest intellectua 
harvest Geology was the chief of the separate science! 
which counted him among its oldest experts. So far as w 
know, he was the first to draw correct and far-reaching in- 
ferences from the fossilized remains of animals and plants 
He found impressions of fishes, and probably of seaweeds 
in the younger Tertiary strata of the celebrated quarries o 
Syracuse, and he discovered all kinds of marine shells ii 
the older Tertiary stratum of Malta. Hence he deduce< 
certain changes which the surface of the earth had under 
gone in remote periods, and as an anticatastrophist, t 
follow Sir Charles Lyell's definition, he regarded thes 
changes, not as the result of immense separate crises, bu 
as the outcome of steady and imperceptibly minute prc 
cesses gradually consummated to effects of colossal dimen 
sions. He assumed a slow graduated periodical change c 
land and sea, and the assumption reminds us of the cyclic* 
doctrine which we met in our consideration of his nornim 
teacher, Anaximander. Xenophanes combined it with 
similar theory in respect to the regular and natural d 
velopment of human civilization 

" Never the gods showed mortals everything from the beginning, 
But they search for themselves until they discover the better." 

Here a note of strict scientific reason is unmistakabl 
struck, and it invests the picture of the sage of Colophc 
with a new and by no means insignificant feature. 

Let us review once more the successive stages in tl 
lifework of this extraordinary man. The poignant suffe 
ings which he experienced in early youth aroused in h 
mind a spirit of scepticism towards the worth ai 
tenability of the popuUr traditions, especially where the 


dealt with religion. Nearly seventy years of wandering 
deepened and confirmed this scepticism by the wide ac- 
quaintance which he obtained with the beliefs and habits 
and customs of many peoples and tribes. They placed 
in his ready hands the most effective engines of iconoclasm. 
The religious reformer was now fully equipped to enter 
on the road which he had opened. He did not reject the 
influence of his own moral ideals, of impulses which might 
be described as inherited or atavistic, and of the results of 
the scientific culture of his age. His mind, a storehouse 
of refined humanity and justice, was naturally averse from 
the employment of rude force, and led him to make a 
clean sweep of all the elements of popular belief which 
were hostile to his higher standard. The worship of 
nature was imbibed by the Greeks with their mothers' 
milk, and it came to more exalted expression through the 
poetical and religious personality of Xenophanes, who 
united with it the belief in the rule of universal law 
which he shared with his more enlightened contem- 
poraries. Thus he attained to a conception of the supreme 
godhead as a uniform and all-pervading power, governing 
the universe as the soul governs the body, endowing it 
with motion and animation, but inseparably bound up in 
it. The picture we are drawing is not complete with- 
out the mention of yet another impulse. Xenophanes 
was distinguished by a deep-seated instinct for truth which 
was fostered and cherished by his criticism of the myths. 
It led him to condemn the conventional theology, not 
merely on account of its ethical inadequacy, but by reason 
of its defective justification in fact. The accepted tenets, 
he would have us understand, do not only tell us what, in 
respect to the most exalted topics, we should not believe, 
but they tell us what we cannot believe. Some of the 
statements repel him by their worthlessness, others by 
their arbitrariness as well. He brought his hand down 
sharply on conceptions morally innocuous, but monstrous 
and adventurous, describing, for instance, as an "invention of 
the ancients " the belief in " giants, Titans, and centaurs." 
Further, the teaching of Xenophanes did not merely 


differ from that of his theological forebears, but he taught 
less than they did. He was content to dwell on a few 
fundamental conceptions without investing them with 
fuller and more exact form. In the words of Aristotle's 
grumble, " Xenophanes has expressed himself with broad 
distinctness on no subject." And his reticence went yet 
further. In ever-memorable verses he disputed dogmatic 
certainty in general with an implied reflection on his own 
teaching, and thus it may be said that he repudiated before- 
hand all responsibility for the excesses of dogmatizing 
disciples. " No one," he exclaims, " has attained complete 
certainty in respect to the gods and to that which I call 
universal nature, nor will any one ever attain it. Nay, even 
if a man happened to light on the truth, he would not know 
that he did so, for appearance is spread over all things." 
We shall meet this immortal maxim more than once in the 
course of our labours. First, in the work of an eminent 
champion of sound methods of natural philosophy, the 
friend of Hippocrates, if not Hippocrates himself, in 
the monograph " On Ancient Medicine," the determined 
attack on the arbitrariness of the nature-philosophers 
which this pamphlet contains is led by the motto we have 
quoted from Xenophanes. But to this we shall revert 
later on. At present we may close our delineation with 
the remark that Xenophanes, like all genuinely great men, 
was an amalgam of contrary qualities whose apparent in- 
compatibility went deep. He united in his own person 
the inspiration of a god-intoxicated enthusiast and the 
sober perception of a critic acquainted with the limits of 
human knowledge. He was at once sower and reaper. 
With one hand he sowed the seed from which a stately 
tree was to rise in the forest of Greek speculation ; with 
the other hand he sharpened the axe which was to fell^ 
not that tree alone, but many another mighty trunk. 



r. POLYBUS, son-in-law of Hippocrates, the founder of 
scientific medicine, opened his treatise "on the nature of 
man" with a lively polemic. He attacked physicians and 
litterati who represented the human body as composed 
of a single substance. Some declared this " All-in-one " 
to be air, others fire, and others again water, and each of 
them, according to Polybus, "supported his doctrine by 
evidence and proofs which in reality mean nothing." The 
truth of the assertion, declared its author, becomes as clear 
as daylight if one watches the dialectic tourneys devised 
for the entertainment of the public. For while he who 
is In possession of the truth makes it triumph always 
and everywhere, here victory falls to the chance possessor 
of the most persuasive tongue. And this memorable 
polemic concludes by saying, " So far as I can see, these 
people throw one another successfully by means of their 
speeches, and by their imprudence they help the thesis 
of Melissus on its legs." Now, arguments which help a 
doctrine on its legs, which support it and strengthen it, 
that is to say, may fairly be supposed to have prepared 
the way for it and to have contributed to its first appear- 
ance. We shall, therefore, be well advised not to lose 
sight of this incisive remark, but to bear it in mind, when 
we are looking for the principle of the Eleatic doctrine. Its 
fullest expression is associated with Melissus, a Samian 
noble, whose date is definitely fixed by the naval victory 
which he won over the Athenians in 441 B.C. Above 


all, we shall have to fix our attention on two important 
aspects of this inquiry. We shall have to determine what 
relation was borne by Polybus to the nature-philosophers 
whom he attacked with such uncompromising vigour, as 
well as to the metaphysician of Samos, whom we may 
fairly include as a member of the Eleatic school. Polybus 
is severed from his adversaries by wide differences of 
opinion, but the worst reproach that he levels at them is 
that they assisted the victory of Melissus. This sounds like 
the admonition of a good patriot to whom party conflicts and 
differences are immaterial when a worse enemy is knock- 
ing at the door. And such was actually the case. The 
sharpest contrast with the physicists and natural philo- 
sophers, of all kinds and schools, was formed by those whom 
the biting wit of their contemporaries stigmatized as "un- 
natural philosophers" or " stoppers-of-the-universe." The 
" thesis " of Melissus meant nothing else, to use his 
own words, than that " we neither see nor know what is." 
The brilliant world by which we are surrounded, and of 
which our senses bring us tidings, is a mere semblance and 
deception. All change, all motion, all growth, and all 
occurrences, everything that provides matter for natural 
science and speculation is a dream, a shadow, and nothing 
more. The one reality behind this phantasmagoric illusion 
is what ? The two pioneers of this school of thought part 
company here. In the destructive part of their doctrines 
they agree, but they are not completely at one in the 
positive solutions that succeed it. It will be well, then, to 
consider the doubts and negations which they shared in 
common, having previously acquainted ourselves with the 
older and more important representative of the doctrines. 
2. The senior of Melissus was Parmenides, the veritable 
founder of the famous doctrine of unity. He was born at 
Elea as the son of prosperous and respected parents, 
whose position would naturally have entitled him to take 
part in political life. He is said to have drawn up a code 
of laws for Elea, and the well-authenticated reference 
which fixes his flowit in the 6gth Olympiad (504-501 B.C.) 
may be taken as the date of some public act of this kind. 

Xenophanes, whose death must have occurred after 478 B.C., 
survived that Olympiad by a quarter of a century, and the 
two great men had undoubtedly been intimately acquainted. 
But we shall do well to beware of regarding Parmenides 
as the pupil of Xenophanes, for the brief sojourn of the 
wandering rhapsodist in the home of his adoption pre- 
cluded him from working as a teacher. On the other 
hand, we are acquainted with the names of two Pytha- 
goreans, one of whom, Aminias, is said to have given 
Parmenides an impulse to philosophic inquiry, while to the 
other, Diochaites, he felt himself so much indebted that 
he dedicated a "heroon," or memorial chapel, to the 
memory of his master. We shall presently see that, as a 
matter of fact, the philosophic system of Parmenides 
owed as much to Pythagoras as to Xenophanes. The 
disciple of Pythagoras was ready to build up his pantheistic 
doctrine in the forms of strict evidence borrowed from the 
science of mathematics, but the peculiar direction of 
thought which he gave to it shows beyond dispute that 
Pythagorism did not fully satisfy him. And if his thought 
was founded on the pantheism of Xenophanes, and its lines 
were determined by the mathematics of Pythagoras, it set 
its compass by yet a third system, namely, that of 
Heraclitus. For it was the doctrine of flux, first formu- 
lated by the sage of Ephesus, which made the deepest 
impression on the mind of Parmenides. It sounded the 
bottom of his scepticism, and impelled him, as it impelled 
his successors, to adopt conclusions of the kind in which 
the characteristic speculation of the Eleatics found its 
most powerful expression. The younger representative of 
the school may perhaps be taken as the mouthpiece of 
this scepticism. His lucid and flowing prose will at least 
be more refreshing in our ears than the didactic poetry of 
his master, with its closely-packed arguments and crowded 
sentences. Melissus' account runs as follows: 

"If earth, water, air, and fire, likewise iron and gold, are; if 
the one be living and the other dead, if this be white and that be 
black, and so on through the whole range of things of which men 


say that they really are; if these things are, and we see and hear 
aright, then each and every object would have to be as it seemed 
to us at first, and not change and become an object of a different 
form, but it would ever be whatever it is. Furthermore, we claim to 
see and to hear and to recognize aright ; but what is hot seems to 
us to become cold, and what is cold to become hot, and the hard 
thing soft, and the soft thing hard, and the living to die and to be 
engendered from the not-living, and all these changes to take place, 
and what a thing was and what it now is to be in no wise alike. 
Rather doth iron, which is hard, seem to become rubbed away by 
the finger that it encircles [as a ring] ; and gold and precious stones, 
and all else that we regarded as strong, suffer the same change, 
and earth and stones seem to be engendered by water. Where- 
fore it ensueth," concludes the thesis of Melissus, "that we 
neither see nor know what is" 

Two conditions are accordingly required in the things 
of sense : the inviolable stability of their existence, and 
the inviolable stability of their qualities. In respect to 
each of these demands, they are weighed in the balance 
and found wanting. They are reproached at once for 
their perishability and for their mutability. And if 
the two demands, and respectively the two conclusions, 
appear as if they were one, the fault lies in the 
ambiguity, which had not yet been recognized, of the 
verb "to be" in its two-fold sense, (i) of "existence/' as 
"the sun is," and (2) jof ^jjaere^jgopula^^a^'. lUhe^un^s""a 
shall we discuss the question whetEeT 'or 

not Melissus was justified in dismissing the perishable 
and mutable to the realm of visionary appearance. But 
we can very well conceive that the search for a sound, 
we might say a robust, object of cognition was not 
successful in the province of sensible things in an 
age when the science of matter was in so rudimentary a 
stage. The leaf which is full of sap and verdant to-day 
is sere and yellow to-morrow, and brown and shrivelled 
the day after. Where, then, are we to seize the Thing 
itself; how recognize and grasp its permanent element? 
Heraclitus compendiously summarized these everyday 
experiences, and extended them beyond the confines of 


actual observation, clothing his resultant scepticism with 
a paradoxical garb which challenged the common 
sense of mankind. Thus, supposing the impulse to 
knowledge could not rest satisfied in the view of the bare 
uniform succession of phenomena, not merely was it now 
deprived of its foothold, but the natural desire for a 
harmony of thought, wholly free from contradictions, was 
disturbed and impelled to protestation. It was unsatis- 
factory enough to have to acquiesce in the view that "the 
things of the sensible world are involved in incessant 
transformation," but sound reason rose in revolt against 
the further principle that "things are and they are not," 
and the spirit of rebellion was strongest among men of 
most disciplined minds. No wonder, then, that those who 
had enjoyed the benefits of a Pythagorean or mathe- 
matical training were most strongly affected by this re- 
action, and it is not surprising that Parmenides, with his 
Pythagorean traditions, should have stigmatized as "the 
twin roads of error " the common philosophy that basked 
in the reality of the sensible world, and, secondly, the 
doctrine of Heraclitus. He assailed that doctrine with the 
most poisoned shafts of his invective. Those "to whom 
being and not-being are at once the same and not the same" 
he denounces as "deaf and blind, helplessly staring, a 
confused herd ; " "double-headed" he calls them on account 
of the double aspect of their Janus-like theory of things ; and 
the fate which his satire reserves for them is to fall into their 
own stream of flux and be carried away on its flood ; 
" know-nothings " he calls them, and " retrograde is their 
path," like the metamorphoses of their primary matter. 

Characteristic as these outbreaks are for the spirit of 
the Eleatic philosopher and his relation to the doctrine of 
Heraclitus, his quarrel with his second and more important 
adversary, the general opinion of mankihd, is yet more 
fascinating and instructive. The excitement by which he 
was moved can be felt in his panting sentences and 
verses ; with breathless energy he struck at the popular 
conception of the world, and the ringing strokes of his 
scepticism fell like the blows of an axe. His iconoclastic 


method was applied to the reality of sensible objects, to 
birth and death, and every motion and change. We may 
quote the following phrases from the negative part of his 
work : 

" How should the thing that is ever be unmade ; how should it 
ever have come into being? If it came into being, there must 
have been a time when it was not, and the same holds good if its 
beginning is still in the future. . . . 

" Where wilt thou seek for the origin of the thing that is ; how 
and whence did it grow ? I shall not permit thee to say or think 
that it came forth from the thing that is not, for the not-being is 
unspeakable and unthinkable. And what need, moreover, would 
have driven it to existence at one time rather than another ? . . . 

" Furthermore, the power of insight will prevent thee from 
believing that out of the thing that is another can become by its 

And next to these negatives we may put the following 
affirmative utterances. The thing that is is not merely 
" not-become and imperishable/' and accordingly " without 
beginning and end ; " not merely are " changes of place 
and shiftings of hue unknown to it," but it is a limited 
and thinking being, an "indivisible whole, uniform, con- 
tinuous, similar in all its parts, not being less here and 
greater there, but resembling the bulk of a well-rounded 
and equably weighted ball." At these words the reader 
experiences somewhat the same kind of shock as when he 
is startled from a dream. A moment ago we were soaring 
beyond the aerial stars, and now the confines of reality are 
closing in on us again. Parmenides, too, it would appear, 
essayed a flight on the wings of Icarus above the region 
of experience into the ethereal domains of pure being. 
But his strength betrayed him halfway ; he sank, and fell 
to the familiar plains of corporeal existence. The truth is, 
his theory of Being prepared the way for the kindred con- 
ceptions of later ontologists without being identical with 
those theories. It was still of the earth earthy ; it brings 
us to the forecourt, but not to the fane, of metaphysics. 
3, At this point we shall do well to revert to the dictum 


of Polybus, from which we started. The philosophic 
physician recognized that the self-contradictory statements 
of the physicists lent force to the scepticism of Elea. 
He would doubtless have had us understand that those 
who declared all things to be air denied, with but a single 
reservation, the trustworthiness of the evidence of the 
senses ; that the same held good, with merely a change 
in the reservation, of those who replaced air by water 
or fire. Representatives of this doctrine must have played 
into the hands of thinkers, if they did not actually engender 
them, who would lump together the concordant negatives 
and strike out the contradictory affirmatives ; these would 
cancel one another, like the items on a balance-sheet, and the 
thinkers would merely have to add the separate negations 
of the " physicists " to one grand total negation.* No one 
who follows out this thought will cherish a moment's hesita- 
tion as to the source of Parmenides' theory of Being. It 
is a kind of dividend, the residue or deposit of the spon- 
taneous disintegration of the doctrine of primary matter. 
The various forms in which that doctrine had clothed 
itself in turn were full of implicit contradictions which 
presently disproved one another, and the greater then was 
the influence on mankind of the common truth that under- 
lay them when the clash of opinions had cleared away. 
In Aristotle's words, it is "the common doctrine of the 
physicists," by whom he meant the nature-philosophers 
from Thales downwards, that matter is neither generated 
nor destroyed. This doctrine was domiciled in the mind 
of the cultivated Greek for the full span of a century ; and 
considering how often it changed its form, and how 
brilliantly it survived those transformations, it is not 
surprising that it should ultimately have ranked as unim- 
peachable, and have been invested with well-nigh axiomatic 
force. To quote Aristotle once more, this "ancient and 
undisputed tenet" derived point and pith from the reaction 
against the doctrine of Heraclitus, and at the same 
time it was extended by other contributions into the 
source of which we have now to inquire. 
* Cp. Bk. LCh. I. 2. 


We are already acquainted with the first and most 
important of these contributions. Unchangeability was 
added to eternity as an attribute of the universal being, 
filling all space, in the system of Parmenides. It differed 
from the primary beings of Thales, Anaximander, Anaxi- 
menes, and Heraclitus in escaping the liability to manifold 
modification, transformation, and rehabilitation. It is to-day 
in nature and condition the same as it ever was and as it 
ever will be. Nay, one of Parmenides' expressions even 
seems to cast doubt on the passage of time itself; and, 
seeing that nothing happened in time, that reality was 
denied to each and every temporal process, there was 
actually nothing left for the time-conception to denote. 
Parmenides' power of abstraction reached its zenith at this 
point, but his mind did not dwell there for long, and he 
reverted with increased impressiveness to the unchange- 
ableness of his spatial being. He added the condition of 
qualitative constancy to that of quantitative constancy, 
the germ of which, at least, had been contained in the 
doctrine of primary matter from the very beginning, and 
had gradually come to clearer expression through the 
influence of AnaxJmenes in particular. The constitution 
of matter was to remain unaltered at the same time that 
its mass was to be exempt from increase and diminution. 
This extension of the doctrine was entirely native to its 
spirit, as we hope to show by a brief digression lying a 
little outside the chronological limits of our immediate 
inquiry. Anaxagoras, whose name will occupy us presently, 
was, so far as we know, in no wise influenced by the 
teaching of Parmenides. Still, the common foundations 
of their theories were surmounted by the same super- 
structure, and a telling fragment from his work which 
has only recently been discovered, will best illustrate the 
method by which he and many others arrived at this 
extension of the doctrine of primary matter. " How," he 
asks, " should hair have come from not-hair and flesh from 
not- flesh ?" and herein he fancies he has disproved a sheer 
impossibility. In order to follow Anaxagoras, we must re- 
member the fascination exercised by language on the minds 


even of the deepest philosophers. Matter Is eternal, and 
out of nothing there can never come something ; this, as 
we saw just now, had already passed into a commonplace. 
The transition thence to the new axiom was easy and 
imperceptible. If a being never comes from a not-being, 
why should such-and-such a being ever come from not- 
such-and-such a being ? Both postulates would be covered 
by a single formula : no being can come from a not-being, 
no white from a not-white, and so forth. We have already 
had occasion to remark the equivocal use of the word 
"to-be," and its vacillation between the meaning of 
"existence" and its employment as a copula to join the 
subject to the predicate. But though the new postulate 
may and must have arisen in this way, though the asso- 
ciation of ideas and the ambiguity of language may have 
helped to call it in existence, yet its value and significance 
are not therefore condemned. The belief in causation was 
likewise born in darkness, as the child of the associative 
faculty, but the obscurity of its origin would not reconcile 
us to abandoning its lead, now that experience is ever 
confirming the ample promise it contained, and now that 
the scion of the inductive canon has been grafted on the 
wild stock. Nay, supposing the impossible were to 
happen ; supposing the staff which guided the steps of 
our forebears on this planet through myriads of years 
were to break asunder in our hand ; supposing water 
were suddenly to cease to quench our thirst, and oxygen 
to feed the process of combustion ; even on this wild 
hypothesis we should yet have had no alternative, we 
should yet be unrepentant of having held the belief that 
the future would resemble the past ; we should yet not 
regret having followed the only path open to us through 
the maze and wilderness of natural phenomena. 

The case is similar, though not quite the same, when we 
come to the twofold postulates for the stability or constancy 
of matter. Not quite the same, because the world would 
still not necessarily be reduced to chaos ; purposeful action 
would not be an impossibility, provided there existed 
phenomenal processes, held together by the bond of causal 


uniformities, even without any permanent substratum. But 
no good purpose is served by fantastic suppositions of this 
kind. Presupposing the existence of material bodies, and 
presupposing likewise the series of experiences on which, 
as we have seen, the doctrine of primary matter 
depended for its source and strength, the progress of 
science was then indeed bound up with the growing 
belief in the permanence, quantitatively and qualitatively, 
of the contents of space. This was the sole condition 
for comprehending the universe and for inferring the 
future from the past ; and the demand for this condition 
must have powerfully fostered the popularity of the new 
belief, if it did not actually engender it But there 
are still, even at this date, considerable distinctions to be 
drawn between the two branches of the doctrine. We 
believe to-day that nothing comes from nothing, and 
nothing passes into nothing. The opposite opinion has 
been proved to be nugatory time after time, especially in 
departments of thought where modern science has made 
most progress ; we possess, too, the additional negative 
proof that no single trustworthy instance has ever been 
adduced to the contrary. Still, the statement that nothing 
can come from nothing, and that nothing can pass into 
nothing, is one that we have no right to concede either to 
Parmenides himself or to his countless anti-empirical suc- 
cessors. Its apparent philosophic necessity is the merest 
delusion. The method was to introduce new elements in 
a conception in this instance, the conception of being 
and then, when they had coalesced among themselves and 
with their verbal husk, to mistake the artificial product 
for a natural, if not for a supernatural, product. Eternal per- 
manence was first given the name of "being," and subse- 
quently it was clearly demonstrated that such a being could 
neither arise nor decay, inasmuch as in that case it would 
not be a being at all. It is otherwise with the second of 
these twin postulates, which is still the almost exclusive 
property of the strict scientist of to-day. Its opposition to 
the evidence of sense is considerably greater than that 
of the older twin* It is far more a guiding star for the 


investigators than a goal which they have reached and 
maintained by means of experience, Briefly stated, 
as developed by modern science, the postulate amounts 
to simply this : In all natural phenomena there is a 
central string of occurrences which radiates in countless 
branches. That central string is composed of nothing 
but processes of motion, and we may call the objects in 
which these movements or changes of position occur with 
approximate accuracy bodies devoid of quality. The 
branches or radii are the sensuous impressions which 
produce the appearance of a change of quality. We 
may illustrate this theorem by a few examples. There 
is the wave of air, and the impression of sound which 
corresponds to it ; there is the wave of ether, and the 
corresponding impression of light ; and there is a chemical 
process denoting in the ultimate resort a separation, con- 
junction, or shifting of particles of matter, with the 
corresponding impression of taste or smell. We are 
already acquainted with the processes of motion in the 
realm of optics and acoustics, corresponding with the quali- 
tative impressions which they radiate. When we come 
to chemistry, however, our information is by no means 
so complete. It was only the other day that a dis- 
tinguished physiologist described as the task of the future 
" Newton of chemistry " 

" The reduction of the simplest chemical processes to terms of 
mathematical mechanics. Chemistry," he continued, " will never 
become a science in the highest sense of the word till we have 
succeeded in comprehending the energies, the velocities, the stable 
and unstable equilibria of particles as thoroughly as the motions 
of the stars." 

And the same author declares, touching the beginnings 
of this ideal science, that he is not aware of 

ce any more wonderful production of the mind of man than structural 
chemistry. It was hardly more difficult to build up the mechanics 
of the planetary system out of the movements of luminous points 
than to develop step by step such a doctrine as that of the isomeric 
relations of the carburetted hydrogens out of the apparent quality 


and transformation of matter as revealed to the five naked 

4. Our digression has led us a long way from 
Parmenides, but we felt it due to the curiosity of our 
readers and to the memory of the old philosopher to hint 
at the fruits folded in his doctrine of the unchangeability 
of matter like the flower in the bud. Moreover, it will 
have helped us to understand and to appreciate the most 
paradoxical portions of his teaching. We perceive with- 
out overmuch surprise that, granting the postulate or 
assertion of material unchangeability, with the nourish- 
ment it derived, by means not unfamiliar to us, from 
correct conjecture and delusive association, the reverse 
side of the theory was the rejection of the evidence of the 
senses. Their testimony contradicted the postulate, and 
their trustworthiness was accordingly denied. There is a 
gap, however, in the logical consistency of this argument, 
for no other witness than that of touch, or rather of 
muscular resistance, could be conclusively quoted for the 
belief in the existence of the contents of space, and even 
of space itself. Still, Parmenides was plainly quite honest 
in his conviction that he had expelled from his universe 
everything dependent on the perception of the senses. 
He erred in this conviction. He shared with Immanuel 
Kant, to mention but one out of many, his mistake of the 
sensuous origin of the idea of space, but he cannot fairly 
be blamed for it. It is more astonishing that, while he 
left space and its corporeal contents undisturbed, he 
dismissed to the limbo of appearance that movement 
in space which depends on the same evidence. The con- 
tradiction cannot be evaded, and we may perhaps explain 
it as follows. The fact most' incredible to Parmenides 
was the change of quality. Now, if we remember how 
much is comprised in the conceptions of organic structure, 
growth, development, and decay ; if we reflect that in wide 
tracts of natural life these changes of quality go hand-in- 
hand with movement in space, including changes of volume ; 
if we further add that the essential connection of both series 
of facts came to exalted expression in Heraclitus* doctrine 


of flux, which coupled incessant changes of place with 
incessant changes of quality, we shall see that it was 
perfectly natural that the sworn foe of that doctrine should 
never have succeeded in dividing the halves so intimately 
bound together, but should rather have included them both 
in a common condemnation. This tendency, so strong 
in itself, was considerably strengthened by an outside in- 
fluence. Parmenides contested in unequivocal language, 
which however has but seldom been rightly understood, 
the existence of a vacuum. His argument, we may remark 
in parenthesis, is of considerable historical importance as 
affording the sole evidence of the presence of the opinion 
at that date. Nor was it present in a mere rudimentary 
form. It had already assumed that developed shape which 
distinguished and comprised the conceptions of continuous 
space void of corporeal contents, and of interstices 
existing in the bodies themselves and separating their 
particles from one another. As to the origin of this theory, 
it is merely a conjecture, but a safe one, that, designed as it 
was to explain the fact of motion, it sprang from the circle of 
the Pythagoreans, who were unique at that time in devoting 
serious attention to the problems of mechanics. Parmenides 
and those who thought with him would have seen in the ac- 
knowledgment of a vacuum a being or existence of the not- 
being. He was accordingly impelled to dispute the empti- 
ness of space, and thus the fact of movement itself would 
appear to him inexplicable and, therefore, impossible. In 
this way the universe of Parmenides rises visibly before 
our eyes, or perhaps it would be more correct to say that 
it visibly grows less and less. We have watched the 
disappearance of all differences in sensuous objects and 
their various states ; we have watched the vanishing of all 
changes of place from the universe which was not denied 
spatial extension and Contents, and what, we may ask, is 
now left? Nothing but a bare uniform homogeneous 
mass, a lump of matter without form or contour, nothing 
else would have been left to the mind of any one but a 
Greek, with his instinct for form and beauty, who was 
at once a poet and a disciple of Pythagoras. It was 
VOL. I. N 


solely due, in our opinion, to this combination of qualities 
that the infinite became finite, and the formless became 
beautiful in the shape of that " well-rounded ball " with 
which we have already made acquaintance. For there 
is no possible doubt that, consistently with the premises 
of the system of Parmenides, we should have expected 
an infinite rather than a finite extension of the spatial 
Being. Every boundary is a barrier ; and how, one might 
ask, could it corne to pass that the only genuine all- 
inclusive Being, suffering nothing, not even nothingness, 
to exist beside itself, was at once bounded and barred ? 
Proofs of this kind would doubtless have been adduced 
to fill up any lacuna in the doctrine of Parmenides, and a 
considerable degree of inner credibility would have 
attached to them. But, as a matter of fact, there is no 
such lacuna at all. Parmenides tells us the precise 
contrary in quite unequivocal language ; and though, 
owing to the loss or irremediable mutilation of that 
portion of his work, we shall never know his logical 
defence of it, yet we can hazard a very fair guess at 
its psychological foundation. We have already antici- 
pated one part of this inquiry. Parmenides was a Greek, 
which is equivalent to saying that his mind was imaginative 
and poetical, and was thus protected from the logical 
consequences of his premises. Add to this that in the 
Pythagorean tables of contraries the unlimited was ranged 
with the imperfect Moreover, ludicrous as it sounds, 
it can hardly be denied that the sworn foe of sensuous 
appearances fell a victim at this point to a grave optical 
delusion. For did not in truth the apparent globe of 
heaven, which is stretched as a vault above our heads, 
give rise to the Parmenidean conception of the globular 
form of the only true Being? There is yet another 
question to be considered. Was the universal Being 
of Parmenides merely matter, merely corporeal and 
extended ? And did its author, who valued rigour of 
thought above all things, relegate thought and conscious- 
ness to the outer darkness of appearance ? This seems 
well-nigh incredible ; the supposition is rather forced on 


us that for Parmenides, as Spinoza might have said, 
thought and extension were the two attributes of one 
substance, and the real was at once the thinking and 
the extended. We cannot support this opinion by any 
fragment of his teaching that has come down to us. 
There are but two sentences which could possibly be 
interpreted in that sense "thinking and being are the 
same," and " thinking, and that of which it is the thought, 
are the same ; " but the context in each instance forbids 
it. They mean nothing more than that the genuine thing 
that is is the only object of thought, and that thinking can 
never be directed to the thing that is-not. But, in default 
of direct statement and unimpeachable testimony, the fact 
may be determined by internal evidence. The doctrine 
of Parmenides supplied dogmatic materialism with some of 
its most powerful weapons, but the master himself was never 
a consistent materialist. As such he could not have been 
reputed a disciple of Xenophanes. As such his place would 
have been untenable within the Eleatic school between 
the pantheists Xenophanes and Melissus. As such Plato, 
the bitter enemy of materialists and atheists, would never 
have addressed him as " the great," and would never have 
rendered him a degree of homage which he withheld from 
the rest of his predecessors in philosophy. And if the 
supposition be simply incredible on these grounds, the last 
traces of hesitation are removed by the example of 
Spinoza, which we have quoted already, and the parallelism 
in the Vedanta philosophers of India. The material Being 
of Parmenides was incontestably a spiritual Being as 
well. It is universal matter and universal spirit at once, 
but the matter is sterile because capable of no expansion, 
and the spirit powerless because capable of no action. 

5. Parmenides built a lofty system of philosophy, but 
it strikes cold on the senses with a dismal feeling of 
monotony. One almost wonders if the architect entirely 
escaped that impression. Hardly, it would seem ; for he 
did not rest satisfied with the formulation of his "Words 
of Truth," but he followed them up on phenomenal lines, 
as we should now say by his " Words of Opinion." Many 


previous workers in this field have been unable to contain 
their astonishment that Parmenides should have taken this 
step ; to our own thinking, it would have been more 
remarkable if he had omitted it. He was a man deeply 
immersed in the science of his age ; his mind was excep- 
tionally inventive and exceptionally agile, and he was not 
likely to content himself with the reiterated repetition of 
a few meagre principles, important enough in their con- 
sequences, but mostly of a negative tendency. He found 
himself prevailed on, or, as Aristotle put it, "impelled to 
trace or account for phenomena." And in this there was 
nothing inconsistent ; for, though he rejected sense-percep- 
tion as illusory, yet it had not therefore vanished from the 
world. Trees still grew green before his eyes, the brook 
still whispered in his ears, flowers were still fragrant, and 
fruits still palatable to his taste. And if this held good in 
his instance, it held good of the rest of mankind, yesterday 
as to-day, there as here, whenever and wherever they 
existed. Nor was he in any wise precluded from trans- 
gressing these limits of time and space. He was free to 
speak of the rise of the human race, the origin of the 
earth, or the mutations of the universe, for he merely 
implied that "such-and-such phenomena would have pre- 
sented themselves to me and to those like me, if we had 
been alive then and there." Though Kant's " General 
History and Theory of the Heavens" actually preceded 
his " Critique of Pure Reason," yet their order tnight as 
well have been reversed: the sage of Konigsberg's belief 
that only the "thing in itself" possessed objective reality 
need no more have prevented his derivation of the solar 
system from a primeval nebula than the sage of Elea's 
ontology need have stood in the way of his cosmogony. 
This was the point of view which Parmenides maintained 
in the composition of Part II. of his didactic poem ; or rather, 
he would have maintained it with complete consciousness 
if the distinctions of "subjective and objective," "abso- 
lute and relative," and the like, had been clearly and 
logically grasped by him, and had been fixed, with their 
corresponding terminology, as part of the furniture of 


his mind. But this, as we know, was not the case. His 
own expressions betray him, chiefly the Greek word 
tJo^ct, which we have to render by "opinion," but which 
really conveys several finer shades of meaning. It signifies 
the sense-perception the thing that appears to men ; and 
it signifies equally the idea, or view, or opinion the thing 
that appears to men to be true. Thus Parmenides was 
precluded, by the habits of thought and speech prevailing 
in his times, from treating and approaching with any degree 
of confidence what we designate subjective or relative truth. 
What he offered were "the Opinions of Mortals ; " and this 
description did not merely cover other people's opinions. 
It included his own as well, as far as they were not confined 
to the unassailable ground of an apparent philosophic 
necessity. He laid them before his reader with the specific 
warning not to yield them unquestioning credence; he 
spoke of the "misleading structure" of his theory, and 
called its exposition "plausible" or acceptable in contrast 
with the "convincing force of truth" which belongs to 
ideal reason. As he wrote in his dithyrambic introduction, 
both parts of his didactic poem were put in his mouth by a 
goddess. The second half contains some of his most original 
dogmas, which were taken in earnest and widely esteemed 
In antiquity, and cannot therefore have been intended to 
act merely as a foil for the brilliance of his " Doctrine of 
Truth." Doubtless he was also glad of the opportunity of 
displaying the amount of his learning in this form, for he 
straightly wrote that the reader of his work would be 
" second to no mortal in knowledge " or insight. Further, 
besides satisfying the desire of his own heart, he enjoyed 
the welcome chance of finding himself in no too great 
opposition to the religious traditions and sentiment of his age. 
He adopted the same method in this instance as in that of 
his doctrine of phenomena, ranging himself, that is to say, 
with the popular belief modified by Orphic influences, and 
introducing deities such as the "all-controlling goddess" 
enthroned in the centre of the universe, and "Eros the 
first-created." Meantime it is doubtful how far such god- 
heads were mere personifications of natural forces and 


factors. We shall hardly be wrong If we presume that 
the mind of the philosophic poet was torn by as deep a 
misgiving as that which quite recently gave us Fechner's 
"Day and Night Views " by the side of his "Atomic 

The cosmogony of Parmenides starts from the assump- 
tion of two primary matters. They bear a striking resem- 
blance to the first differentiation of the primary Being of 
Anaximander, with the thin, the bright, and the light on 
the one side, and the thick, the dark, the heavy on the 
other. Parmenides conceived the origin of the world as 
inexplicable, except by the co-operation of both factors, 
which were sometimes called light and darkness. He 
explicitly condemns the assumption of a single primary 
matter and the rejection of the second a condemnation 
which was intended to apply to the theories of Thales, 
Anaximenes, and Heraclitus, but which fell chiefly on the 
last-named of the three, who was the principal opponent 
of the Eleatic philosopher. In verses which have not 
come down to us, Parmenides described the creation of 
" the earth, the sun, the moon with its borrowed light, the 
common ether, the heavenly milk, the outermost Olympus/' 
already known to us, "and the warm force of the stars." 
We can credit him with a knowledge of the globular shape 
of the earth without any hesitation. He is said to have 
been the first to give literary form to the theory, and to 
follow the older Pythagoreans In not disputing the centra] 
position of the earth-ball in the universe. Moreover, he 
developed the doctrine of the different zones ; and, misled 
apparently by false analogies drawn from the heavenly 
zones, which he transferred to the central earth, he consider- 
ably exaggerated the size of that strip of the earth which 
is rendered uninhabitable by its heat. The different 
regions of the heaven were known to him as "wreaths." 
He represented them as enclosing one another in con- 
centric circles composed partly of "unmixed fire," and 
partly of fire mixed with the dark or earthy matter. A< 
a natural philosopher he followed both Anaximander anc 
Pythagoras, and we have already shown cause to believe 


that he was influenced by the " table of contraries." That 
influence becomes clearer when we pass to Parmenides' 
theory of generation. He referred the difference of sex 
in the embyro to its local position, so that the contrast of 
male and female corresponded with that of right and left. 
In the same theory we mark the tendency, so characteristic 
of a Pythagorean or mathematical training, to derive dis- 
tinctions of quality from differences of quantity. He 
followed Alcmseon in using the hypothetical proportions of 
the male and female generative elements to account for 
idiosyncrasies of character, and above all for the peculiar 
sexual inclinations of the male and female products. 
In precisely the same way he referred the intellectual 
differences of individuals and their mental condition with 
its temporary variations to the greater or smaller share of 
the two primary matters which their bodies contained. 
Empedocles, as we shall presently see, repeated this mode 
of thought, which led him to an important and genuinely 
scientific modification of the doctrine of elements. These 
two philosophers, Parmenides and Empedocles, display 
other points of contact, to which we shall return later on. 
At present we have merely to pass in review the younger 
representatives of the Eleatic school before we say a last 
word on the work of Parmenides as a whole. 



I. MELISSUS is the enfant terrible of metaphysics. The 
childish clumsiness of his false conclusions betrays many 
a secret which the finer art of his successors was careful 
to preserve. In this way we may explain the striking 
change in their attitude towards him which constantly 
surprises us. At one time they shun his intimacy and 
deny their uncouth predecessor much in the same way as 
a man's family will turn his back on him in order to 
avoid disgrace. At another time they are delighted to 
find that their own views were shared by so early a 
representative of their school ; they pat their awkward 
champion encouragingly on the back, and exert themselves 
to explain away the worst blemishes that sully the service- 
able philosophy of Melissus. Thus the thinker is alternately 
called clumsy and clever, crude and creditable, and these 
epithets succeed one another in pictorial succession from 
the times of Aristotle till the present day. 

We are already acquainted with the starting-point of 
the doctrine of Melissus, and, further, with its goal so far, 
at least, as it coincided with ttfiat of Parmenides. So far 
as we are aware, they diverged from each other at three 
places. Melissus kept extension as an attribute of being, 
but purged it of everything that was grossly material. 
He added infinity in space to infinity in time, and finally 
he ascribed an emotional life to being a life that was 
innocent of " grief and pain," and which we must there- 
fore call a condition of undisturbed bliss. Thus we 


see that considerable progress had been made in the 
process of abstraction inaugurated by Parmenides. So 
successful has been the decomposition of the material 
picture of the universe, that its features are liable to 
vanish altogether and to make room for a blissful being. 
In this respect Melissus must be numbered with the 
mystics, but in one particular, at least, he was dis- 
tinguished from the great majority of them, whether in 
the East or in the West. He endeavoured, with what 
success he might, to support his conclusions on logical 
grounds, and not on mere inward light or intuition. It will 
be well to gain acquaintance with his logical processes, 
though it seems hardly possible to give a fair and simple 
account of them without submitting them to a critical 
examination. The first words which Melissus placed at 
the head of his work were the following : " If nothing is, 
how should we come to speak of something as being?" We 
are grateful to him for having admitted the possibility that 
the starting-point of his discussion could be illusory, and 
for having attempted to clear it up by an argument. 
Nor shall we linger to ask if the argument was tenable, 
or if one might not have replied that the conception of 
being, in the strict sense in which alone it can bear the 
consequences which are here tacked on to it, may possibly 
have rested on an illusion of the human mind, which 
Melissus himself believed to be liable to so many illu- 
sions. But without pausing at this point, we may continue 
our quotation from Melissus : 

" What is," he went on, " was from everlasting and will be to 
everlasting ; for, if it had become, before it became it must have 
been nothing; and if it was nothing, then we ought to say that some- 
thing can never arise out of nothing. But if it has not become, 
and yet it is, then it was from everlasting and will be to everlast- 
ing. It possesses no beginning and no end, but it is infinite. 
For if it had become, it would possess a beginning (for it would 
have begun, if it had become) ; and an end (for it would at some 
time have ended if it had become). But if it has neither begun 
nor ended, and always was, and always shall be, then it 
possesses no beginning and no end. Furthermore, it is impossible 


that anything be everlasting which does not comprise everything 
in itself." 

To avoid the possibility of a mistake, we must quote 
at this point two more brief fragments : 

" As Being is for ever, it must also be infinite for ever in size," 
" That which possesses beginning and end, is neither everlasting 
nor infinite." 

Every one must perceive the desperate leap from 
temporal to spatial infinity which Melissus hazarded at 
this point. Aristotle remarked on it justly and emphati- 
cally enough, but the most surprising and memorable 
feature in the argument is the following. Whatever 
really requires demonstration is taken as self-evident, 
or at the best the proof is left to be read between the 
lines ; the really tautological and therefore self-evident 
proposition is clothed in the forms of a wide-spun and 
tedious argumentation. As an example of the first 
class we may quote the thesis, "that which has 
arisen must decay," to which the parenthetic little 
sentence, "for if it had become it would at some time 
have ended," is added by way of assertion rather than of 
proof. Moreover, the proposition, which is neither more 
nor less than a fully intelligible generalization from actual 
experience, could not have been proved, in the strict sense 
of that term. It is precisely the same with another 
thesis, similarly derived from the facts of experience: 
"Only that which has nothing outside of it whereby it 
could be injured or destroyed can be everlasting." This 
is a thought which must have been present to the mind 
of Melissus, since it is the sole possible justification of 
his statement that the universe alone is eternal. Not 
a jot more proof is adduced In support of the thesis on 
which the whole argument is based, that "something can 
never come from nothing." Here the metaphysician was 
borrowing from the physicists ; he took from them the 
chief principle of their doctrine of primary matter, which 
had first been based on actual evidence, which had been 
confirmed by the progress of observation, but which could 


never have been deduced from any necessity of thought. 
Melissus, on the contrary, used the strict forms of logical 
demonstration, drawing consequences and conclusions 
where nothing was proved or concluded, but where the 
statement actually rested on a mere verbal change : " that 
which begins has a beginning ; that which ends has an 
end ; that which neither begins nor ends has no begin- 
ning and no end ; that which has no beginning and no 
end is infinite." /'It would be erroneous to conclude that 
this apparent series of demonstration was entirely devoid of 
a progress in thought, but it was due to the help of equivo- 
cation or of the ambiguity of language, which imperceptibly 
replaced the temporal beginning and end with the corre- 
sponding spatial conceptions, that it moved forward/ at all 
and broke the spell of tautology. On the whole we may 
call it a model and masterpiece of d priori reasoning which 
renounces every appeal to experienc^ By this act of 
renunciation the philosopher starts without any provision 
for his journey. We can hardly wonder, accordingly, 
that he should pick up whatever he encounters on his way 
substantial products of experience no less than threads 
of fantastic dreams concealing his sleight of hand by a 
glib equivocation which clothes with fresh and ever- 
rich meaning the old husks of language. And by the 
time he reaches his goal, our eyes are dazzled with the 
borrowed gaudy colours in which his proud a priori truths 
conceal their contraband origin, or we fail to mark the 
tacit presumptions and slippery parentheses by which the 
concealment is effected. 

The belief in the spatial infinity of being having thus 
been obtained, its unity was deduced from it " For if," 
wrote Melissus^" there were two beings, then being would 
be bounded by another being."-' In other words, the thing 
which is unlimited in space cin neither be bounded nor 
limited by another being in space. The principle is as 
unimpeachable as it is unproductive, nor was it made 
productive till the apparatus of equivocation was set to 
work again, and the quantitative conception was changed 


delay into uniformity and homogeneity. And these ideas 
' were employed to draw conclusions touching the character 
of being, which were just as appropriate as if one said that 
a die ceases to be one as soon as all its six sides cease to 
display the same colour. But let us listen to Melissus in 
his own defence: 

' "Thus," he declared, "being is everlasting, and infinite, 
and one, and wholly homogeneous. It is incapable of decay or 
increase, nor can it suffer a cosmic change. It is equally insensible 
to pain or grief, for if it could experience any of these, it would 
no longer be one."/ 

These principles were defended by their author in 
detail, but we shall merely have occasion to draw attention 
to a few points. In the first place, we may note the 
argument which led to the denial of every change. Melissus 
maintained that a change of being, since it prevents its 
remaining homogeneous, would destroy what had been, and 
would bring what had not been into existence. So the 
impossibility of rise and decay was not confined to the 
existence of being, but was extended to its nature, and 
thus it came about that the attribute of homogeneity was 
extended from the simultaneous to the successive states of 
being. Our previous inquiry has prepared us for this 
transition from the "What" to the "How," but the 
argument by which the loss of former qualities and the 
acquisition of fresh ones are made coincident with the decay 
of what had been and the rise of what had not been is a 
new feature in the reasoning. The following reflection is 
calculated to excite our surprise : " If the Universe were to 
change in ten thousand years by as much as a hair's breadth, 
it would be destroyed in the course of all time." We are 
delighted here at the wide perspective which is in such 
striking contrast to the narrow horizon of older philo- 
sophers with their childish cosmogonic and mythological 
speculations. It is greatly to the credit of Melissus that 
he should have learnt to cast up minute processes to a 
total of incalculable effects a lesson which was chiefly due 
to the geological researches of Xenophanes. But creditable 


as this was to the elasticity of his mind, it was bound 
to injure the logical accuracy of his thought: inferences 
drawn from empirical facts had no business in his system, 
which was openly at war with experience. We are 
confronted with the same employment of the results of 
experience and with a similar illicit generalization there- 
from in the argument intended to confirm the exemption 
of being from pain and grief : 

" It is sensitive to no pain," wrote Melissus, " for it is 
impossible that it could be wholly filled with pain, seeing that 
a thing filled with pain cannot exist for ever. But the 
thing that suffers is not of the same nature as the thing that is 
sound, wherefore, if it suffered (partial) pain, it would no more 
be homogeneous. Further, it would suffer pain only by some 
loss or accretion, and would then for this reason too not be 
homdgeneous. Further, it is impossible that a sound thing 
should feel pain, for then would the sound thing that is be 
destroyed, and the thing that is-not would arise* And in respect 
to grief there is the same proof as in respect to pain." 

The reader is already familiar with some of the 
fallacies contained in this exposition, and they call for 
no special mention. There is a striking instance of the 
naive employment of experience in the argument from the 
empiric fact that pain is an accompaniment of inward 
disturbance, and that the inward disturbance is frequently 
at least the precursor of dissolution. It was an observation 
transferred from the animal organism to the conception of 
being, which resembled it in well-nigh no respect Our 
philosopher appears to have forgotten one of the commonest 
causes of physical pain, which lies in functional disturb- 
ances. His eye was fixed on its most obvious causes, in 
the loss of a limb or in the formation of malignant growths. 
We are quite unable to determine how he would have 
modified his argument in order to prove the second part of 
his contention, which denied all suffering of the spirit or 
soul. It may almost be conjectured that he shrank from 
the difficulties of the task, Melissus' campaign against the 
possibility of the movement of being was fought with 


the well-known weapons of Parmenides. There could be no 
movement thus much the physicists had shown without 
a vacuum ; emptiness is nothing, and nothingness cannot 
exist. Further, the admitted homogeneity of Being was 
employed to deny it any different degrees of density. 

Here we reach the last and the most difficult portion of 
the doctrine of the philosopher of Samos. He granted, as 
we have been told with wearisome iteration, the spatial 
extension of being ; how did this agree with his contention 
that it possessed no corporeity that, in his own words, 
" since it is one, it cannot have a body ; for if it had thick- 
ness, it would have parts, and then it would no longer be 
one" ? It is true that Parmenides had expressly stated of 
his primary being that it was "not divisible." But we 
are by no means obliged to credit him with the absurdity 
of giving it a globular shape and denying it the possession 
of parts. We shall doubtless be correct in taking his 
negation to imply, not the impossibility of ideal partition, 
but of actual separation into parts. The indivisibility of 
being in this sense is only a special case of its general 
incapacity to move as maintained by Parmenides. In the 
instance of Melissus, this loophole of escape is closed 
against us, since he expressly denies not the separability, 
but the existence of parts. No one will seriously con- 
tend that in denying the thickness of being Melissus 
was merely denying its third dimension, and declaring it a 
being in two dimensions or a mere plane. Such a con- 
ception would be foreign to the whole of antiquity, and it 
further contradicts the actual statement of Melissus that 
all space was filled by his primary being. We are reduced, 
then, to the belief that Melissus did not identify the filling 
of space with corporeity, but was anxious to free his omni- 
present and completely blissful universal being from every 
trace of gross materialism. The conception is too indistinct 
to admit of precise formulation, but it does not lack parallels 
even of the most recent date, among which will be re- 
membered the newly revived identification of space with 
the Deity. It would have been more comprehensible, or 
at least more consistent, if Melissus had used the arguments 


we have cited to relieve his being of the categories of 
space and time altogether. For absolute unity is incom- 
patible with all coexistence and succession. Numerical 
ideas, including the idea of unity, are known to us purely 
as relative ; the tree is singular in relation to its fellows in 
the forest, but plural in relation to its branches; the 
branches are singular to one another, but plural to their 
leaves, and so forth. Now, if we agree to forget this, and 
to take our conception of unity in earnest, we shall be 
entering a path which will lead us to no minor goal than 
the complete " emptification," not merely of material exist- 
ence, but of spiritual existence as well, inasmuch as our 
states of consciousness describe a temporal succession. At 
this point unity, dispossessed of all its contents, passes 
into naked nothingness. Later, we shall have to consider 
the history of a revolution of this kind, by which nihilism 
or the doctrine of nothingness proceeded from the Eleatic 
ontology or doctrine of being. 

2. We feel that in parting from Melissus we have not 
been over-lenient towards him, but, blameworthy though 
he may have been in much of his methods and results, no 
one can desire to deprive him of one title to fame. The 
gallant admiral was a thinker of undiminished fearlessness, 
He followed up his line of thought with entire indifference 
to the reception, whether favourable or otherwise, which 
might be awaiting him at the end. Grave fallacies must 
be laid to his charge, but there is not the least ground to 
impute to him any deliberate imposture or any deception 
save the deception of himself. This brave and honest 
philosophic courage was the best inheritance bequeathed 
by Xenophanes to the school, and it likewise characterized 
the great champion of criticism with whom we have 
now to occupy ourselves. The champion was Zeno of 
Elea. He was a tall man of distinguished presence, who 
enjoyed the intimacy of Parmenides, and shared his interest 
in political life, though his junior by five and twenty years. 
He died the death of a martyr owing to the part he took 
in a conspiracy aimed at the overthrow of a usurper, and 
the unexampled endurance with which he bore his torments 


as been a theme of admiration to this day. He was a 

orn fighter and a born master of dialectic, and an early 

all to self-defence provided a use for that talent. 

5 armenides* doctrine of unity had set a peal of laughter 

inging through the whole of Greece, and this outburst of 

nirth and ridicule, as noisy as that which less than two 

:enturies ago greeted Bishop Berkeley's denial of matter, 

summoned Zeno to the lists. He was burning to retaliate, 

and he promptly seized his opportunity. He paid the 

scoffers, as Plato tells us, "with their own coin in full, and 

added something in the bargain." 

He challenged them somewhat in this wise : " You laugh 
at us because we reject all movement as absurd and im- 
possible ; you rail at us for fools because we rail at the 
senses for liars ; because we see in the plurality of objects 
nothing but idle delusion, therefore you throw stones at 
us. See to it that you are not yourselves living in a glass 
house ! " And then he began to empty the quiver of his 
polemic, teeming with pointed barbs. Like a row of 
pearls, he strung the silken thread of his dialectic with 
the chain of subtle arguments which have puzzled the 
heads of generations of readers, and have proved insur- 
mountable obstacles to more than one powerful intellect, 
of whom we need but mention Peter Bayle. 

We take a grain of millet and let it fall to the ground. 
It sinks noiselessly to the earth. The same thing happens 
with a second and a third, and with every one in turn of 
the ten thousand grains which the bushel in front of us 
contained. Now we collect the grains and pour them back 
into the bushel and turn it over. The fall of the grains is 
accompanied this time by a great noise, and Zeno asked 
how it could happen that the combination of ten thousand 
noiseless processes should result in one full of noise. He 
deemed it inexplicable that the sum of ten thousand 
noughts, instead of being nought, should make a sensible, 
and a veiy clearly sensible, magnitude. Zeno's difficulty 
is our own difficulty too, nor can it be solved till we have 
looked a little closer at the nature of this puzzling process. 
This deeper insight was not possible in the age when Zeno 


lived, and his paradox or "apory" possesses the great 
merit of having brought the impossibility home to every 
thinking person. It gave a voice to the cry for a psy- 
chology of sense-perception. There was no way out of 
the difficulty as long as the sensible qualities were regarded 
as the pure objective possessions of the objects, but a way 
is found at the moment that we take hold of the act 
of perception and recognize the essentially complicated 
character of the process which seems so simple. Such 
complication is always present, and its ramifications are at 
times very many. And, likewise, we must first admit the 
possibility that here, as elsewhere, an expenditure of force 
without palpable effect need not therefore be lost, nor its 
value equivalent to nil. A single instance will help us to 
comprehend both truths. Take a child's hand pulling at 
a bell-rope. It sets the bell in no perceptible motion. 
Now add a few more children to pull, and their combined 
effort will succeed in swinging the bell with its clapper. 
With twice or three times the number of little hands they 
may be able to set the clapper beating on the rim of the 
bell, but the stroke may still perhaps not be strong enough, 
and the concussion of air too weak to produce the physical 
changes in our auditory apparatus indispensable for the 
effect of sound. And an exertion of force sufficient for that 
purpose may still be inadequate to the amount requisite 
for the physiological process which we call a stimulation of 
the auditory nerve. Further, such stimulation may ensue, 
but its degree of intensity may be inferior to that required 
to produce the decisive process in the brain depending on 
the nerve-stimulus. And, finally, this process too may be 
effected, and yet its strength may be too little to raise the 
corresponding psychical impression over the threshold of 
consciousness. Our own psychical condition at the time 
must also be taken in account. If our senses are subdued 
by sleep, or if our attention is concentrated elsewhere, the 
resistance to be overcome will be greater than under other 
and more favourable conditions. The failure of the ulti- 
mate end is no proof whatever that any one of the mediate 
processes, whose number we have certainly underestimated, 

VOL. I. O 



did less than its own share in contributing to the final 
success. Even the first and apparently ineffectual effort 
of a single child's hand performed its due part in the whole * 
it assisted in lessening the resistance which would only be 
fully overpowered when the number of hands had been 
multiplied. But the demand that each unit of force exerted 
at the beginning of the process should produce a hundredth 
part of the success finally attained by a hundred such units 
is wholly unjustified in such cases. A cog-wheel may 
measure one inch or ninety-nine inches in diameter, but 
it will not be able to catch the next cog-wheel till its 
diameter has been increased to a hundred inches if that 
be the distance to be covered. Then, and then only, will 
the whole series of consequences ensue which depend on 
the revolution of the second wheel, and the relations of the 
second to the third, of the third to the fourth, and so on, 
are determined by the same conditions. The ultimate 
working of the machine depends for its success or failure 
on the presence or absence of the hundredth inch. 
Zeno's paradox which we have discussed so minutely 
gave an impulse to speculations of this kind, and may 
claim its share in the progress of the doctrine of sense- 
perception. It was about this time that sense-perception 
was recognized, not as a mere reflection of objective 
qualities, but as the result of the influence of an object on 
a subject derived through a long chain of causal processes. 
And the light kindled at Zeno's torch began to spread in 
all directions. 

3. We reach now the famous paradoxes respecting 
movement in space. Zeno began by submitting the con- 
ception of space itself to a not very searching criticism. 
He argued that if every being, every real thing or object,' 
is discovered in space, space itself, unless it lacks reality^ 
must be in space in a second space, that is to say and 
this secondary space must be in a tertiary space, and so 
on ad infinitum. We are accordingly left with the alter- 
native of saying ditto to this absurd reasoning, or of denying 
the reality of space. It would be paying Zeno an unde- 
served compliment to refer here to the criticism which Kant 


and other modern philosophers have brought to bear on the 
conception of space. The word TOTTCC, which was used in Greek, 
might equally well be translated " place " without the least 
injury to the argument. Every object lies in a place, and that 
place, if it is something real, must be situated in a second 
place, and so forth. Moreover, the paradox which Zeno 
applied to the juxtaposition of objects might have been 
extended to their existence. Every real or existent thing 
possesses existence ; such existence, unless it be chimerical, 
must possess a second existence, and so forth. In short, 
we are merely dealing with the deep-rooted tendency of 
language arising from the use of substantives as the names 
of abstractions of every kind of forces, qualities, conditions, 
and relations to measure every such conception by the 
standard of concrete things. A conception of that kind had 
to pass the thing-test, as it were, or it failed to qualify 
for existence. According as it passed or failed, or, rather, 
according as its existence was regarded as indispensable or 
otherwise, it would be relegated to the realm of fancy, or, 
far more frequently, it would be conceived as a kind of 
thing, as the spectre of an object. The value of the 
paradox consists in setting clearly before our eyes this 
fatal tendency of the human mind, to which we may trace 
the worst and most obstinate errors and delusions, and 
the absurdities which it engendered serve to warn us from 
its influence. 

When we reach the puzzles to which Zeno himself 
gave expression in respect to the problems of motion, we are 
on far less primitive ground. Every one knows "Achilles 
and the Tortoise." The type of swiftness and one of the 
slowest of creatures agree to run a race, and, strangely 
enough, we are hardly able to understand how the first is 
to overtake and pass the second. Achilles, according to 
the terms of the competition, gives the tortoise a start and 
runs ten times as fast. Taking the start to be a metre in 
length, as soon as Achilles has completed the metre, the 
tortoise is a decimetre in advance ; when Achilles has run 
that decimetre, the tortoise has crawled on another 
centimetre ; by the time he has covered that centimetre, 


his opponent is a millimetre further on, and so on ad 
infinitum. Thus we see the two coming nearer and nearer 
to each other, but we cannot perceive how the minimum 
interval which finally divides them is ever to be completely 
bridged over, and accordingly the conclusion is that 
Achilles will never overtake the tortoise. The tyro at 
mathematics is greatly astonished to learn that this ex- 
position, apart from its conclusion, is wholly vouched for 
by mathematical experts. The swift-footed son of Thetis 
will actually never reach his clumsy adversary at any of 
the points here mentioned or alluded to, not at the tenth, 
nor at the hundredth, nor at the thousandth, ten-thousandth, 
hundred-thousandth, nor millionth of the second metre 
of its creeping progress. But simple arithmetic will show 
us that Achilles will reach the tortoise at the moment it 
has completed the ninth part of this journey, for he runs 
ten-ninths of a metre, or one metre and a ninth, in the 
time that the tortoise crawls one-ninth, and the whole 
endless series T V + T&F + Tinnr + -nmnr + nrtW + 
loooooo + - - does not exceed the amount of \. Let us 
put the problem and its solution in a more universal form. 
If the two velocities stand in the proportion of I : , the 
overtaking will not occur at any point in the series 
i.i. i.i. i.i 

~ + + + 6**' ; but thls infinite 

is included in the finite quantity So far all is in 

order. A quantity may be divisible into infinite parts, but 
it does not therefore cease to be a finite quantity. Infinite 
divisibility and infinite quantity are two very different con- 
ceptions, though the danger of confusing them be great. 
Further, it is easy to account for the apparent permanence 
of the distance which divides the two competitors in our 
mental sight Our capacity to realize minute fractions of 
space is strictly limited. We sfoon reach a barrier which 
imagination cannot transgress. We may go on diminish- 
ing by words the smallest unit of space which we are able to 
conceive, we may go on talking of the hundred-thousandth 
pr millionth part of a metre or foot, but the same smallest 


unit of space which our imagination can grasp is in 
reality ever before us. It emerges again and again after 
each attempt at division, and it defies our endeavour to 
bring it nearer to nothingness. But though we may admit 
all this, it is still legitimate to ask if we have completely 
and finally solved the difficulty so clearly perceived and 
so brilliantly expounded by Zeno. The great master of 
dialectic has helped us to answer this question by recasting 
his paradox in a simpler and less insinuating form. How, 
he asks, can we ever traverse a portion of space ? For 
before we attain the end we must first have completed 
half our journey, and then a half of the remaining half, a 
quarter of the whole, that is to say ; and then a half of the 
last quarter, or an eighth of the whole ; and then a sixteenth, 
a thirty-second, a sixty-fourth part, and so on adinfinitwn. 
The answer generally given is that, in order to traverse an 
infinitely divisible space, the time requisite for that purpose 
must likewise be infinitely divisible ; and, as far as it goes, 
this is correct. But it does not go very far, for the crux 
of this problem too lies in the relation of an infinite series 
to a finite quantity. It is true that mathematicians assure 
us and prove that the series reached here by division by 
two no more exceeds a finite quantity than the former 
series in tens. Just as ^ + _j_. 4. ^^ +. . . do not 
exceed -J-, so + \ + + . . . do not exceed i. And 
this presents no great difficulty. But what startles us is 
their further assurance, which alone is valid for our purpose, 
that each of these infinite series actually reaches the re- 
spective finite quantities of -J- and I. We cross at one step 
a certain length of space, and experience no shock if we 
are told that that length is divisible in infinite parts. But 
now, working backwards, let us take the synthetic instead 
of the analytic road, and endeavour to build up the finite 
quantity out of the given infinitude of parts. Will there 
not always be a remainder, a fragmentary part, however 
small, wanting to complete the structure ? Is it possible 
to exhaust the inexhaustible ? If we take counsel with 
the mathematicians, we shall be advised to neglect the 
infinitesimally small or vanishing quantity at the end of a 


series, just as they proceed in converting a recurring 
decimal fraction to a vulgar fraction. Such artifices are 
quite legitimate and of eminent service to the purposes 
of natural science, but they seem to contain the confession 
that it is impracticable to deal in full earnest with the 
conception of infinity, and this, we believe, rather than the 
empirical conception of motion, was the true objective of 
the paradoxes we have discussed, however contrary it 
may have been to the intention of their author. 

It is with a positive sense of relief that we turn from 
the perplexities of thought with which we have just been 
exercised to the two last paradoxes of Zeno concerning 
the problem of motion. The third paradox has not come 
down to us in a very distinct form, but it may be stated 
approximately as follows : An arrow is sped from its bow ; 
it measures one foot in length, and traverses ten feet a 
second ; is it not accordingly legitimate to say that the 
dart occupies a space equal to its length in every tenth 
part of that period of time ? Now, to occupy a space 
and to rest are the same ; and the paradox consists in 
asking how ten states of rest can result in one state of 
motion. The question can be put in a yet more captious 
form : Does an object move in the space in which it is, or 
in the space in which it is not ? Neither alternative is 
defensible, for to be in a space and to occupy it are equi- 
valent to resting there, whereas in the space in which an 
object is not, it can neither act nor be acted on. This 
is the paradox, and its solution is simple enough. We 
have only to reply that the premise is as false as it is 
insidious. A body in continuous motion does not occupy 
a space even in the smallest conceivable fraction of time. 
On the contrary, it is always engaged in passing from 
one portion of space to another. But the paradox is 
valuable inasmuch as it compels us to form a clear idea 
of continuousness and to hold fast by it. The difficulty 
arose from the vagueness of the outline of this idea ; from 
the confusion, that is to say, between the notion of steadi- 
ness or continuousness and that of discontinuous units a 
contrast which we shall presently meet in another shape. 


The fourth and last of the paradoxes of motion relates 
to a problem of velocity. We shall perhaps be able to 
explain it best if we modernize the ancient " arena " in 
the following fashion. Three railway trains of equal 
length are on three parallel pairs of rails. The first train 
(A) is in motion ; the second (B) is at rest ; the third (C) 
is moving at the same rate as A, but in the opposite 
direction. Now, it is clear to every one that A will reach 
the end of B in twice the time that it requires to reach 
the end of C, though C and B are of equal length. 
Hence, if we are asked to state the velocity with which A 
moved, we must give different answers according as we 
measure it by the standard of C, which was moving at an 
equal rate, or by that of B, which was at rest. The objec- 
tion will probably be raised that the last-named standard 
is the normal one. We use it in the considerable majority 
of cases, and we are compelled to use it in all cases where 
the thing to be determined is the expenditure of force 
underlying the velocity. But this objection carried no 
weight with Zeno. He would have replied that truth and 
error are not determined by a plebiscite of instances. It is 
enough, he would have said, to be able to point to examples 
such as the one given above, in which it may correctly be 
contended that the moving body completed the same 
distance in the whole time and half the time at once. If 
the standard of movement in time is relative, how, he 
would have asked, can movement itself be something 
absolute and objective, and thus be something real ? 

4. The plurality of objects guaranteed by the evidence 
of the senses was supposed to be annulled by the follow- 
ing double argument. It was represented as leading to 
two contradictory conclusions, under which the many 
objects would be at once without magnitude and infinitely 
great. They would be without magnitude because there 
would not be a plurality of objects unless each of the 
objects was a unit But a veritable unit cannot be divisible, 
whereas an object remains divisible as long as it possesses 
parts. Now, it possesses parts when it is extended, so 
that if it is to be a veritable unit it must be without 


extension and consequently without magnitude. On the 
other hand, the many objects would at the same time be 
infinitely great, for each object, if existence is to be ascribed 
to it at all, must possess a magnitude. Its possession of 
a magnitude implies that it consists of parts with a mag- 
nitude belonging to each part. Further, if those parts are 
to be different, they must be separate from one another, 
and they could only be separate from one another if 
other parts were situated between them. This process 
goes on ad infinitum, for the intermediary parts would 
always have to be separated from one another by another 
set of parts endowed with a certain magnitude. Thus 
every body would comprise an endless number of parts 
each of which would possess a certain magnitude ; in other 
words, it would be infinitely great. 

The premises of this reasoning are not quite as 
arbitrary as they appear at first sight For one thing, it 
must be remembered that the conceptions of unity and 
plurality are not used here in the relative sense in which 
we commonly meet them. We have already proved to 
our satisfaction that a unity which is always and everywhere 
to remain a unity can actually possess no parts, and that it 
is, accordingly, not to be found either in the world of co- 
existence or of succession. A unity of this kind is absolute, 
not relative, and it is therefore quite true to say that it 
is incompatible with the idea of spatial extension and 
magnitude. Considered in this light, the first part of 
the argument is really irrefutable. And this character of 
absoluteness belongs equally to the premise of plurality 
which underlies the second part of the argument. If 
two parts of a body are never and nowhere to be regarded 
as a unity, there must at least be a sharp line of demarca- 
tion, and the reservation implied by our "at least" goes 
to show that we consider the present argument as less 
powerful than its counterpart. The line or boundary must 
be real ; accordingly, if an object without magnitude is to 
be accounted unreal, this boundary in question must possess 
magnitude or bodily extension. But an extended object 
consists once more of parts, and therefore the line of 


demarcation is characterized by precisely the same con- 
ditions as have just been proved of the parts of the body 
which it holds asunder. And this reasoning may be 
pressed ad infinitum* Each argument may be summarized 
by a single convenient formula as follows : 

If each of the objects is really one, it must therefore 
be indivisible ; that is to say, it must be unextended and 
without magnitude. 

Secondly, If objects are multiple, then each pair 
of them must be separated by an intercalary object 
possessing extension and therefore parts, which in their 
turn must be similarly separated, and so on ad in- 

The double argument thus stated does not appear to 
us to be entirely valueless for the progress of knowledge. 
Unity and plurality are not absolute conceptions, but 
purely relative. If I have an apple before me, it will 
depend entirely on my point of view, on the purpose by 
which I am directed, whether I regard it as a unit, as a part 
of a collection of apples, or as a plurality, as the aggregate 
of its constituent parts. Unity and plurality cannot be 
treated as absolutes. We cannot talk of units which in 
no circumstances could become plural objects, nor yet 
of plural objects which in no circumstances could become 
units, without assuming premises as wild and grotesque 
in character as those which we have just followed to 
their suicidal conclusions. 

We stumble here against the roots of many other 
actual and possible paradoxes, for our inquiry first brings 
to light the essential opposition between unity and 
plurality, and their common hostility to the conception of 
reality. A real object, according to the tenets of this school, 
is an object which possesses magnitude, which, accordingly, 
is extended, divisible, and plural. But a plural object 
requires preliminary units of which it is the aggregate. 
Such units, however, as true and absolute units, must be 
indivisible and unextended. They must be conceived 
to be without -magnitude, and therefore without reality. 
Thus we see that the conception of being or reality was 


full of flaws, and was burdened with contradictions from 
the start. Every real object was an aggregate composed 
of units, but the units were devoid of reality, and the 
Colossus of the Real rested on the clay feet of the Unreal. 
Nor should we be attended by better fortune if we made 
the endeavour to liberate reality from its delusive founda- 
tion and to set it on a firmer basis. It would still crumble 
to pieces by internal decay. For if the plural object 
remains an aggregate, and the parts of which it must be 
composed in order to possess extension, magnitude, and 
consequently reality, are not reducible to units, it will lack 
all tenable or untenable foundation ; it will be infinitely 
divisible ; it will fall to pieces more and more till it is 
completely annihilated. Thus we may take it as proved 
that neither together nor apart are the notions of " unity " 
and "plurality" suitable vehicles for the notion of reality 
or being. The "one" is unreal at the start ; the "many" 
becomes unreal whether it is left to rot on its own founda- 
tion or whether it is rebuilt on the sands of the "one" 
till they go to pieces together. 

We should wrong the memory of Zeno if we looked 
on the reflections which we have freely rendered here as 
a mere puppet-show of idle abstractions. They contain a 
criticism of the conception of matter, partly prevalent to 
this day, as serious in intention as it was successful in 
execution. The infinite divisibility alleged of matter was 
threatening [it with extinction when the thought arose, 
probably in the Pythagorean circle, that this divisibility 
would not transgress a limit which, though distant, was 
definite. Certain minute nuclei, which might be com- 
pared with pin-points or motes in the sun, would set a 
limit to its further division. It is Zeno's indisputable 
merit to have pointed out the contradictions implied in 
this view. Either those nuclei possessed magnitude and 
extension, in which case they would be subject to the law 
of divisibility, or they did not possess those attributes, in 
which case they could not have been employed to build 
up the structure of the material world. For one object 
without magnitude added to another does not make a 


magnitude ; we may pile up a mountain of nothings, and 
the result will still be nothing. 

But here our agreement must pause, and even within 
these limits it requires a considerable reservation. The 
authors of the theory which Zeno vanquished so valiantly 
worked with a contradictory premise, but they were not on 
the wrong road. We shall presently become acquainted 
with a doctrine of matter which followed the same path 
without falling into the same contradiction ; it is the path 
which has led the natural science of recent times from one 
triumph to another. The point is that, though a whole must 
possess parts if it is to fall asunder, yet its possession of 
parts need not imply their disintegration in the near, the 
remote, or even the remotest future. There is undoubtedly 
a connection in thought between ideal divisibility and 
actual separability, but they need not therefore be con- 
nected in fact. The assumption of such material nuclei 
not devoid of extension in space, but actually indestructible, 
may or may not be a final truth ; at least it contains a con- 
siderable element of truth, or, more strictly speaking, its 
logical consequences agree so well with actual phenomena 
that they become an engine of unparalleled force in the 
hands of physical research. Except for the blasphemy of 
the thought, we are almost tempted to exclaim that 
perhaps the Creator of the world was not quite as clever as 
Zeno. At any rate, His sublime wisdom did not require to 
be as much on the alert for victories of logic and logo- 
machy as the wit of the pugnacious Eleatic. More 
seriously stated, Zeno's rigour of thought is not always 
of true weight and measure. His arguments frequently 
contain traces of two points of view, each of which is 
defensible on its merits, but is completely incompatible 
with the other. Zeno would play off the one against the 
other ; he would couple the conception of the finite with 
that of the infinite, of continuous space with discreet units 
of time, of continuous time with discreet units of space. 

We return at last to our guiding principle, which is the 
historical point of view, Did Zeno remain till the end, 
as he started at the beginning of his task, a faithful acolyte 


of Parmenides ? The answer is frequently given in the 
affirmative, but it does not appear to be tenable. True, 
he wielded a stout club to punish the anti-Eleatics, but 
we should hesitate to say that the Eleatic philosophers 
enjoyed the fruits of their victory. We should even 
venture to doubt if the " continuous one " of Parmenides 
his globular universal Being emerged unscathed from 
the fray. The artifices of interpretation would have to be put 
to quite illegitimate uses in order to make the assertion. 
No ; an impartial witness will admit that the fundamental 
conceptions of the Eleatics, unity, extension, and reality 
itself, were shaken or, rather, crushed by this criticism. In 
the immediate circle of the school and its adherents no 
doubt was entertained on that point. Plato makes Zeno say 
that his work was the production of his untamed youth 
when the blood ran hot in his veins ; it was purloined 
without his knowledge, and published without his consent. 
Readers of Plato will know how to interpret these remarks. 
His admiration of the "great" Parmenides made him keenly 
alive to the fact that Zeno, the disciple of Parmenides, 
wielded a two-edged weapon with only too much dexterity. 
The " inventor of dialectic " was invested with a halo, but 
its rays were not equally to illumine all portions of his 
work. As a matter of fact, his genius took the bit between 
its teeth, and Zeno was carried far beyond the goal he 
originally had in view. As an ontologist, he entered the 
field as an ardent believer in the doctrine of unity ; he 
left it as a sceptic, or, rather, as a nihilist. We have re- 
peatedly had occasion to refer to the spontaneous decom- 
position of the theory of primary matter ; in Zeno's lifework 
we are presented with the spontaneous decomposition of 
the Eleatic theory of being. 

It is far cry from Xenophanes to Zeno, yet the begin- 
ning and the end stand in close relationship. At the 
one extreme the soluble character of the great problems 
of life is disputed on principle j * at the other, the knife is 
ruthlessly applied to existing attempts at their solution. 
The history of the school is the history of the gradual 

k. II. Ch. L 


growth and enfranchisement of the spirit of criticism. 
Hercules begins by strangling two serpents in his cradle. 
It is fair to expect some further feats of strength when 
the infant reaches maturity. Criticism first laid sacrilegious 
hands on the brilliant tissue of mythology. Next, it rent 
the brilliant tissue of the sensible world, till finally it 
exposed the inherent contradictions in that part of the con- 
ception of the world which had eluded its previous attacks. 
The development followed a straight line. The three chief 
representatives of the Eleatic school form a group of that 
class of intellectual firebrands, whose business it is to rouse 
mankind from indolence of thought and the disposition to 
dogmatic slumber. These pioneers of criticism were as 
confident as they were bold. It was their firm conviction 
that the designs which they conceived as reasonable must 
be stamped on the face of the universe. But as excess of 
fire and a sensibility impatient of control are not inexcus- 
able in youth, so the overweening self-dependence which 
marked the early years of scientific thought may fairly 
claim the same privilege. Thus much we concede. It is 
rather the middle period of the movement which causes 
misgivings in the spectator. The results attained are 
neither complete nor coherent. An unwarrantable quantity 
of dogmatism is left over, which is not merely a deposit 
from former conceptions of the universe, but is the less 
acceptable, inasmuch as it is due to an arbitrary process 
of transformation and malformation, as unsatisfactory to 
the natural instinct as to the trained intelligence. The 
unfavourable impression is relieved if we take a com- 
prehensive view, and join the baseless affirmation with 
the negation that succeeds to it. For it is this con- 
secutive progress of criticism which gives the Eleatic move- 
ment its true value and historical significance. It was 
the first considerable trial of strength, the first school in 
which Western philosophy was tempered and steeled till it 
became conscious of its powers. 

A proof of this progress is the clear distinction, hinted 
at in Xenophanes but now defined by Parmenides, be- 
tween Knowledge and Belief Reason and Opinion. The 


distinction gains in importance if we recall the hopeless 
confusion of these elements in the contemporary teaching 
of the Pythagorean School. We are standing here at the 
parting of the currents. Two streams flow from one fount, 
and take different directions. Nor are their waters 
destined to meet again till they mingle in the flood of 

"Double-headed" was the reproach of the Eleatic, 
levelled at the disciples of the Ephesian. The epithet 
recoils on himself. For, like locaste, his doctrine is preg- 
nant with twin brothers at strife. Consistent Materialism 
and consistent Spiritualism are diametrically opposed to 
each other in the realm of metaphysics. Yet they grew on 
one stem. They trace their descent in common from that 
strict conception of Substance which, though it did not 
originate at Elea, was most clearly extracted not to say 
isolated by the Eleatics from the doctrines of Primary 
Matter. Abstraction having ventured thus far securely, 
its next step brought the inevitable bias, first towards 
Anti-Materialism, and then towards Spiritualism proper. 
The evidence of the muscular sense the sense of resist- 
ance was sent the way of the rest, and nothing was left 
save the bare conception of Substance, the complexus, 
that is to say, of the attributes of eternal persistence and 
eternal immutability. Once more there was a parting of 
the ways. New metaphysical entities had been created 
which might or might not be treated as the vehicles of 
force and consciousness. The choice was determined in 
each instance by the requirements of the individual thinker, 
and on occasions, as we shall see in Plato, it varied with the 
taste of the chooser. Eleaticism worked here by indirect 
rather than by direct means. For the precedent set by 
Melissus found no successor worth mentioning. Except 
in the Megaric School, the least important of the Socratics, 
we hear no echo of his efforts. If we had to discover an 
exact parallel to the blissful Primary Being of Melissus, 
with its total lack of initiative and influence, we should 
have to turn to India. In the lore of the Vedanta philo- 
sophers the world is similarly represented as mere delusive 


appearance with a central Being whose sole attributes are : 
Essence, Thought, and Bliss (sat, cit, and dnanda). The 
second alternative, which substituted innumerable material 
substances for the extended One, is of infinitely greater 
importance in the history of science. We shall meet it 
presently in the beginnings of Atomism, a theory which 
agrees with Parmenides in his strict conception of 
Substance, but parts company with him in his negative 
attitude towards the plurality of objects, the 'vacuum 
dividing them, and the movement in space depending 
on it. Here, too, an historical connection is at least 
not improbable. The next question that suggests itself 
is far less easily dismissed : Was such an intervening link 
between the old forms of the doctrine of Primary Matter 
and this, its latest and maturest presentation, necessary at 
all ? and, if so, to what extent ? The answer will be found 
in the consideration of two thinkers, connected so closely 
by likeness and contrast as not to admit of separate treat- 



i. Two contemporaries stand before us : their minds were 
directed to the same problems, their methods were based 
on similar assumptions, and their results showed signs of 
a very striking consentaneity. And yet the contrast is 
most remarkable. The one was a poet, the other a 
geometer. The one was gifted with glowing imagination, 
the other with cool and sober judgment. The one 
was swollen with vainglory and self-esteem, the other 
completely disappeared behind his work. The one was all 
flowers and flourishes of expression, the other a model of 
language unadorned. The one was so malleable and 
versatile that his joints seemed positively liquid, the other 
so rigidly consistent as at times to appear grotesque. The 
best qualities of each were more or less the defects of the 
other. Empedocles excelled in the wit and brilliance of 
his apergtts / his elder contemporary was distinguished by 
the coherence and uniformity of his majestic system of 

Anaxagoras brought philosophy and natural science from 
Ionia to Attica. The son of aristocratic parents, he was 
born at Clazomenae, in the immediate neighbourhood of 
Smyrna, in or about 500 B.C. He is said to have neglected 
his patrimony and to have devoted himself at an early age 
to the exclusive pursuit of wisdom. We have no record 
of the schools he visited nor of the places where he acquired 
his knowledge. He shows frequent signs of contact with 
the doctrines of Anaximander and Anaximenes, but the 


tradition which makes him a disciple of Anaximenes is 
refuted by the evidence of dates. About his fortieth year 
he migrated to Athens, where the great statesman, whose 
ideal Athens was to be the literary no less than the 
political centre of Greece, honoured the philosopher with 
his friendship. For full thirty years Anaxagoras adorned 
the select circle with which Pericles had surrounded him- 
self. He was fated, too, to be drawn into the whirlpool 
of party politics. In the dawn of the Peloponnesian war 
when the star of Pericles, the leading statesman first 
began to wane, his philosopher friend, like the charming 
and accomplished companion of his life, was arraigned on 
a charge of impiety. The sentence of exile brought him 
back to his home in Asia Minor, and there in Lampsacus 
he died, surrounded by faithful disciples, in the seventy-third 
year of his blameless life. Considerable fragments survive 
of his work, complete in several volumes, and written in 
unaffected but not ungraceful prose. It was published by 
the author at some date subsequent to 467 B.C., the year 
of a groat fall of meteorites which was mentioned in the 
work, and it is interesting to add that it was the first book 
illustrated with diagrams which Greek literature possessed 
He resembled his older Ionian fellow-countrymen in 
his preoccupation with the problem of matter, but the 
solution which he offered was entirely original. It com- 
pletely distinguished him from all previous thinkers and 
it showed that the new criticism inaugurated by the 
Eleatics had not affected him in the least. He may have 
been acquainted with the didactic poem of Parmenides, 
but its contents had failed to exercise any influence on 
his mind. We need look no further than at the doubts 
which Parmenides voiced so emphatically as to the value 
of the evidence of the senses and as to the plurality of 
objects, in both of which crucial instances Anaxagoras 
neither accepted nor opposed his teachings. There is no 
reference to them in any of the fragments which have 
come down to us, nor in any of the supplementary testimony 
of antiquity. The precise contrary is the case. His system 
was based on the unconditional belief in the testimony ' 
VOL, L y 


of the senses, and its cornerstone was not merely a 
bare plurality of objects, but an inexhaustible crowd 
of fundamentally different entities existing from the 
beginning of things. For a moment at least we are 
accordingly the more surprised to find Anaxagoras in 
complete agreement with Parmenides with respect to the 
double postulate which we have already sufficiently dis- 
cussed. His system recognized no beginning and no 
perishing, nor any change in the qualities of things. 
" The Greeks," he wrote, " err in speaking of a beginning 
and a perishing of things, for no object begins, neither 
does it perish, but it is composed by a mixture of existing 
objects, and it is decomposed into them by separation. 
Thus it would be better to call the beginning a mixture, 
and the perishing a separation." We have already learnt 
to recognize how the second and later of these propositions 
the dawn of which we saw in Anaximenes sprang 
from the earlier postulate, which was described, in the 
pregnant phrase of Aristotle, as " the old common undis- 
puted doctrine of the physicists." Nor are we reduced to 
conjecture in order to explain the actual process of develop- 
jnent in the mind of Anaxagoras himself. A brief fragment 
of his work, the claims of which, as we saw,* were over- 
looked for so long, has thrown a clear light on this process. 
The doctrine of matter which is emblazoned with the name 
of Anaxagoras, was based on the following trinity of postu- 
lates : The nature of objects is such as the senses perceive ; 
they have not become and they are not destructible ; 
and as it is with the objects so it is with their qualities. 
His doctrine bears the traces of the rigid consistency of his 
thought, and it is equally conspicuous by its lack of the 
philosopher's indispensable instinct to reject the guidance of 
logic when it deviates from the highway of truth. In brief, 
this theory of Anaxagoras was almost the exact opposite 
of what science has taught us about matter and its consti- 
tution. His fundamental or elemental matter was sought 
in organic combinations which are really the most compli- 
cated, and materials which, if not exactly simple, are at 
* Bk. II. Ch.IL 3. 


least far less complicated, such as water and atmospheric 
air, ranked in his system as the most composite combina- 
tions. If ever a man of powerful intellect chose a wrong 
path and maintained it with imperturbable perseverance, 
Anaxagoras did so in his doctrine of matter. It bore the 
same relation to the results of chemistry as the reverse 
of a carpet bears to its face. The following argument may be 
framed to illustrate his method of reasoning. A loaf of bread 
lies before us. It is composed of vegetable matters, and 
helps to nourish our body. But the constituent parts of the 
human or animal body are multiple : it has skin, flesh, 
blood, veins, sinews, cartilages, bones, hair, etc. Each of 
these parts is distinguished from the rest by its light or dark 
hue, its softness or hardness, its elasticity or the contrary, 
and so forth. How, then, could it happen, Anaxagoras asked 
himself, that the uniformly constituted bread should produce 
this rich multiplicity of objects ? A change of qualities 
was incredible, so that the sole remaining hypothesis 
was that the bread which nourishes us already contained the 
countless forms of matter, as such, which the human body 
displays. Their minuteness of size would withdraw them 
from our perception. For the defect or " weakness " of 
the senses is the narrowness of their receptive area. These 
elusive particles are rendered visible and tangible by the 
process of nutrition which combines them. What was 
true of the bread was likewise true of the corn. Hence 
Anaxagoras was led to ask how the variegated medley of 
particles could have entered in the corn if it had not 
already been present in the sources of its nourishment, 
earth, water, air, and solar fire. Moreover, such particles 
would be discoverable there in the greatest number and 
variety, corresponding to the countless different beings 
which derived their nourishment from those sources ; so 
that earth, water, fire, and air, which were apparently the 
simplest of all bodies, were in reality shown to be the 
most composite. They were full of " seeds" or elements of 
matter of every conceivable kind, and were little more than 
mere collections or storehouses. And, as it was with 
the characteristics of the parts of the human body so it 


,vas, according to Anaxagoras, with the fragrance of every 
roseleaf, the hardness of the sting of every bee, the 
blended colours in every eye of the peacock's tail. The 
primary particles were, in all these and innumerable other 
cases, extant from all eternity, but in a state of extreme 
dispersion, awaiting the circumstances favourable to their 
congregation which alone could render them perceptible. 
The elements of primary matter must have been as 
inexhaustible in number as the differences, down to their 
least perceptible shades, which our senses record, and 
as the combinations, in the utmost possible variety, 
which a single and simple material object could display. 
No one can fail to perceive that the contents of this 
doctrine stand in the most glaring contradiction with 
the actual results of modern science, but the point to 
be noticed is this : that the methods and motives of 
both display the most striking concordance. Anaxagoras, 
too, was concerned to render the processes going on in 
the universe thoroughly intelligible. He reduced chemistry 
to mechanics, and he stripped physiology of every taint of 
mysticism till it was likewise brought within the purview 

of mechanics. He used combinations and separations 

changes of site, that is to say to explain all the most 
secret alterations and transformations. The theory of 
matter taught by the sage of Clazomenae was an experi- 
ment, rough and immature though it may have been, to 
conceive all material occurrences as effects of mechanical 
motion. We are for the most part ignorant of the manner 
in which the details of the theory were worked out We 
cannot say, for instance, how Anaxagoras dealt with the 
alterations in the aspect and character of objects which ac- 
company the change in their state of aggregation. In this 
connection we have to rely on a single saying of the master 
which is itself not a little enigmatic in meaning. He con- 
tended that snow must be as dark as the water from which 
it comes, and that to no one who knew this would it ever 
again appear white. We appreciate the difficulty which con- 
fronted his theory at this point. It consisted in the problem 
pf the change of colour which ensues when the particles of 


water are brought in closer contact by cold. The appeal 
to the " weakness " of our sense-perception had no force 
in this instance. Anaxagoras' fixed conviction that the 
particles of water were necessarily dark-coloured in all 
circumstances rendered the philosopher, we would venture 
to believe, a victim to a gross delusion of senses. We 
conceive that in his desire to see clearly, he gazed at the 
white quilt stretched across the landscape and gleaming in 
the wintry sun, till his dazzled sight began to see every- 
thing black, and he was misled into reading in that 
optical delusion the confirmation of his preconceived 
opinion. If we recall the hardly less crude misinterpreta- 
tion of facts which we marked in the reasoning of Anaxi- 
menes,* the crudity of the mistake will be mitigated. 
And when the representatives of the old doctrine of 
primary matter lifted up their voices against his theory, 
their criticism was robbed of half its force by Anaxagoras' 
appeal to the invisible particles of matter and their in- 
visible movements, which Heraclitus had been the first to 
defend. They asked him how objects fundamentally 
different could be actively and passively related with one 
another, and he answered that each contained a portion of 
each ; " the objects in this one world," cried Anaxagoras, 
" are not completely divided nor hewn asunder as with an 
axe " a phrase, we may remark in parenthesis, containing 
the sole metaphorical expression in all the fragments of 
his work. Each several object was described, according to 
this theory, by the kind of matter which prevailed in it, and 
therefore took precedence of the rest And to minimize 
the disbelief in the reality of the Invisible in general, he 
quoted the example of the invisible air imprisoned in an 
inflated bag, and the resistance it offers to our endeavours 
to compress it. 

2. The cosmogony of Anaxagoras moves up to a 
certain point in the lines laid down by Anaximander and 
seldom deserted by his successors to any serious extent. 
Here too there is a kind of Chaos at the beginning. But 
the place of the single primary matter extended without 
* Bk, I. Ch. L 4. 


bounds is taken by an untold number of primary matters in 
the same boundless extension. " All things were together ; " 
the infinitesimal primary particles in their indiscriminate 
confusion formed an original composite medley, and their 
indistinguishable quality corresponded to the still absent 
difference of quality in the one universal Being of Anaxi- 
mander. The " seeds " or elements were primarily endowed 
with material characteristics, and a mechanical separation 
took the place of the old dynamic "differentiation." 
Anaxagoras did not feel himself impelled to arrive at the 
necessary physical process by mere inferences nor to con- 
struct it on familiar analogies. He presumed that he saw 
it in the apparent revolution of the firmament a phe- 
nomenon that is still enacted before our eyes every day 
and every hour. This revolution was not merely sup- 
posed to have brought the first material separation to 
pass in the beginning of time, but the same cause 
was supposed to produce still and now the same effect 
in other parts of universal space. This attempt to con- 
nect the most distant past with the immediate present, 
and the present again with the most distant future, be- 
speaks a firmness of conviction which arouses our keenest 
surprise. Anaxagoras' belief in the uniformity of the forces 
that govern the universe and in the regularity of its phe- 
nomena was in striking contrast with the mythical mode 
of thought prevailing in former ages. The question arises 
how the revolution of the firmament could have operated in 
the manner alleged of it, and the answer he gave took about 
the following form. At one point of the universe a 
rotatory movement first took place which described ever 
wider and wider circles, and will continue so to describe 
them. The north pole may be regarded with some pro- 
bability as the starting-point of this movement, which 
would obviously be continued in circular lines due in each 
instance to the shock or pressure exercised by each 
particle of matter on its environment. By this means 
alone could the first shock, the origin of which will 
presently occupy our attention, bring to pass in a natural 
way the extraordinary effects which Anaxagoras ascribed 


to it. The inconceivable " violence and velocity " of this 
rotatory motion, we may interpret Anaxagoras as thinking, 
produced such a jarring and clashing that the former co- 
hesion of the mass was relaxed, the friction of the particles 
was overcome, and they were enabled to follow the bias 
of their specific gravity. Then for the first time masses of 
uniform matter were enabled and obliged to form themselves 
together and to inhabit various regions of the universe. At 
its centre, " where the earth is now, was the meeting-place 
of the Thick, the Fluid, the Cold, and the Dark, but the 
Thin, the Warm, and the Dry escaped far away into the 
ether." The primary process which began with a rotation 
in a limited area of space, engendered, it will be perceived, 
an endless chain of consequences. But the process itself 
required a causal explanation, and in this instance physical 
analogies no longer served our philosopher. He was 
reduced to what we may half correctly call a supernatural 
expedient. Half correctly, we say, because the agent 
which he summoned to his help was neither wholly 
material nor wholly immaterial. It was neither composed 
of a common element, nor was it completely divine ; 
moreover, though it was described as "boundless and 
self-governing," yet its force was so rarely, nay, so excep- 
tionally employed that its actual dominion over nature might 
be called a sovereignty in principle, but never a sovereignty 
in fact. It was the Nous which was supposed to have 
given that first shock, and we prefer to leave this word 
in the original Greek, since every translation, whether we 
render it by "mind" or by "thought- element," introduces 
something foreign to its nature. According to Anaxa- 
goras* own account, it was "the finest and purest of all 
things ; " it was " alone free from admixture with any 
other thing, for had it been so mixed it would have 
participated with all other things " it will be remembered 
that the segregation of elements was incomplete 
"and its admixture would have prevented it from 
exercising the same force over any single object" as 
its pure condition enables it to do. Further explana- 
tions describe the Nous as possessing "all knowledge 


about everything, past, present, and future," and endow 
it with " supreme power." But the temptation to rank it 
with the highest godhead is opposed by other considera- 
tions no less essential to its character. We read of a 
" more and less of" Nous ; it is described as divisible and 
as " inhabiting some things," by which all living beings are 
to be understood. 

This doctrine can be traced to two quite distinct 
motives which mutually kept each other in check. The 
universe is full of indications of order and beauty ; its 
factors are linked together in the guise of means to an end, 
and this spectacle suggests the thought of conscious 
government and deliberate operation. In fact, the 
design-argument is still the strongest weapon in the 
armoury of philosophic Theism. Later thinkers have 
entrusted this exalted task to a Being purged from every 
material element, but Anaxagoras believed that its re- 
quirements would be satisfied by a kind of fluid or ether. 
In this he was following the precedent of Anaximenes and 
Heraclitus, whose Air and Fire, though they did not set 
definite ends before them, were yet honoured as the vehicles 
of universal intellect, and he agreed likewise with nine- 
tenths of the ancient philosophers in so far as they regarded 
the individual "soul" as a substance not immaterial, but of 
an extremely refined and mobile materiality. With this 
theory the teleological problem entered on the field for the 
first time, never again to disappear, and it involved a serious 
danger to the progress of science. But happily Anaxa- 
goras, who so frequently drove his logic to excess, was 
content to be illogical in this instance. Plato and Aris- 
totle both blamed him for his lack of consistency. They 
were delighted at the introduction of the new agent, but 
their pleasure was considerably tempered by its use as a 
stop-gap or makeshift. They complained that Anaxagoras 
employed the Nous as the deits ex machind of the dramatists, 
whose function it was to descend from heaven and cut the 
tragic knot when no milder means could be found of dis- 
entangling its confusion. For all minor details Anaxagoras 
had recourse to "air, and ether, and water, and other 


eccentricities/' to anything, in short, in preference to his 
curious reasoning fluid. Of course he might have acted 
otherwise ; he might have satisfied Plato's condition, and 
have made his whole inquiry from the point of view of 
" the better ; " at every separate phenomenon he might have 
asked why and to what end it occurred instead of how and 
under what conditions it came to pass, but in such cir- 
cumstances his contribution to human knowledge would 
have been yet far more modest than was actually 
the case. Our own limited horizon and the consequent 
impossibility of guessing the intentions of the Being who 
governs the world would make this road a path of 
error and delusion, which Anaxagoras was fortunate to 
avoid. He was not merely half a theologian, but he was 
a full-grown natural philosopher as well, though his endow- 
ment was extremely one-sided. To his own contemporaries 
he appeared a very type of that kind, the more so as 
the new theology, by which the Nous doctrine may be 
described, had completely released him from the old 
mythological fetters. The great objects of nature were 
no longer divine in his eyes : they were masses of matter, 
obedient to the same natural laws as all other material 
aggregates whether great or small. It was a constant 
topic of adverse criticism among his own contemporaries 
that he looked on the sun, for instance, no longer as 
Helios the god, but as nothing more or less than " an 
ignited stone." There was only a single point in his 
theory of the formation of the firmament and the universe 
in which he deserted his mechanical and physical principles 
to assume an outside intervention. That first shock which 
set in motion the process of the universe that had hitherto 
been in repose reminds us in a most striking fashion of 
the first impulse which the Deity is supposed by some 
modern astronomers to have given to the stars. Or 
rather, it would be more correct to say that both ideas 
are practically identical. They were intended to fill up the 
same lacuna in bur knowledge ; they sprang from the same 
desire to introduce in the mechanism of heaven a second force 
of unknown origin to take its place by the side of gravity, 


We would not by any means be understood to credit the 
sage of Clazomenas with an anticipation of Newton's law 
of gravitation or with a knowledge of the parallelogram 
of forces, and of the twofold composition of the orbits 
described by the stars, consisting of gravity on the one 
part, and on the other of a tangential force harking back 
to that one original shock. But a brief consideration will 
show how nearly his thought was allied with the principles 
of modern astronomy. In the course of his cosmogony he 
taught that the sun, moon, and stars had been torn away 
from the common centre of the earth by the violence of 
the cosmic revolution. Thus he assumed a series of pro- 
jections or " hurlings-off " in precisely the same kind as 
the theory of Kant and Laplace assumes for the formation 
of the solar system. They were caused, according to 
Anaxagoras, by a force which could only effect that 
result after the cosmic revolution had begun and had 
attained considerable strength and velocity. This force 
we call the centrifugal. Next Anaxagoras turned his 
attention to the gigantic meteorite of ./Egospotami which 
we mentioned above, and which was compared to a millstone. 
He argued that as this stone had fallen from the sun, so all 
the starry masses would fall down on the earth as soon as 
the force of rotation relaxed and no longer kept them in 
their courses. Thus, from the most diverse coigns of 
observation his eye was led back to the same starting- 
point, at what we may venture to call the primeval secret 
of mechanics. The force of gravity did not appear to 
him to be adequate. His conception of it, parenthetically 
remarked, was imperfect, including as it did a belief in the 
absolute lightness of certain substances. He could not 
employ it to explain the separation of the masses of matter 
nor the origin, duration, and motion of the luminaries and 
firmament He concluded that an opposite force was at work. 
Its operation was at once direct and indirect, and in the latter 
category was chiefly comprised the opportunity that it gave 
to the action of centrifugal force. In both categories it 
released an immeasurable series of effects indispensable 
to the comprehension of universal phenomena. The origin 


of this force was hidden in outer darkness. Anaxagoras 
referred it back to an impulse which was intended to com- 
plete the operation of gravity in precisely the same way 
as the shock in which the predecessors of Laplace had 
affected to discover the starting-point of tangential force. 

3. The cosmogony of Anaxagoras was distinguished by 
the spirit of true science. It was especially displayed in 
his acceptation of bold hypotheses where the facts left 
him no alternative, while he brought to bear on such 
hypotheses an extraordinary degree of ingenuity, thus 
enabling them to fulfil a large number of requirements at 
once, like the best examples of the legislative art. A 
minimum of hypothesis, that is to say, was to cover a 
maximum of explanation. We have already sufficiently 
shown in what admirable stead this talent stood him in 
the single instance of quasi-supernatural intervention. We 
have next to mention the remarkable attempt which 
sprang from the same mental tendency to explain the 
intellectual superiority of man. Anaxagoras referred it 
to the possession of the single organ of the hand, and 
compared it, in all probability, with the corresponding part 
of the body in the animal structures that stand next to 
us. The theory reminds us of Benjamin Franklin's phrase 
about the " tool-making animal." We are not acquainted 
with the details of his argumentation, and we readily 
admit that it may have substituted the part for the whole. 
But it bore witness to that deep-rooted objection to piling 
specific differences on one another and multiplying inexplic- 
able final facts, which is perhaps the chief feature by 
which the genuine philosopher may be distinguished from 
his counterfeit. 

The rest of the astronomy of Anaxagoras was little 
more than an heirloom of Miletus. The great man might 
almost be said to have inherited the self-satisfaction of the 
lonians of the Twelve Cities whom Herodotus satirized 
so bitterly. He was quite unamenable to any influence 
which did not proceed from his own country. He ignored 
or rejected as incredible the globular shape of the earth 
which Parmenides had promulgated* He agreed with 


Anaximenes in regarding the earth as flat, and in the 
explanation of its state of rest. At this point, however, 
we are met by a difficulty which has still to be realized 
and explained. According to Aristotle's account, Anaxagoras 
conceived the earth as closing the centre of Cosmos like 
a lid and resting, as it were, on an air-cushion, from which 
the air underneath was unable to escape. But, according 
to other equally trustworthy accounts, his theory admitted 
that the stars moved under the earth as well as above it, 
and it is impossible to reconcile these two versions. We 
must note, by the way, that in the beginning of time the 
stars moved sideways round the earth, and thus never sank 
below the horizon, so that the second proposition of 
Anaxagoras had not always held good in his theory. He 
would not accept the inclination of the earth's axis as a 
primeval fact, evidently because it failed to satisfy his 
strong bias to uniformity. So he believed it to have taken 
place at a later date, by what means we are not told. It 
was dated after the beginning of organic life, doubtless 
because that extraordinary event required a com-, 
plete revision of existing cosmological conditions, and was 
perhaps better compatible with a permanent spring than 
with the changes of the seasons. In other respects the 
views of Anaxagoras were childish enough. His notions of 
the size of the heavenly bodies may be illustrated by his 
statement that the sun was greater than the Peloponnesus. 
He could suggest no more fortunate explanation for the 
solstice than that the density of the air compelled the sun 
to turn round. And the moon with its milder heat was 
supposed to be less capable of resisting the dense air, and 
therefore to be obliged to turn more frequently. Still, if 
we may trust the reports, despite all these blemishes 'on 
his astronomy, Anaxagoras can point to one important 
achievement. He may claim to have been the first to 
have elaborated the correct theory of the phases of the 
moon and of eclipses. In the last-named instance, it must 
be acknowledged that he detracted from his own merits 
by adding the non-luminous stars of Anaximenes to the 
shadows of the earth and moon as the causes of an eclipse. 


Another part of the doctrine of Anaxagoras is extremely 
instructive for the weaknesses as well as the strong points 
of the spirit he brought to his inquiries. He made an 
attempt to explain the accumulated clusters of stars in the 
Milky Way by which he dismissed them as merely apparent 
and due to the strong contrast in that region of the sky 
between the light of the stars and the shadow of the earth. 
We may suppose him to have reasoned as follows. The 
daylight prevents us altogether from seeing the stars in the 
sky, which only become visible in the darkness of night. 
Additional darkness, therefore, will be accompanied by 
additional visibility, and the greatest visible number of 
stars will merely afford evidence that the darkness in that 
region had been the greatest. And he had no other 
explanation to offer of this maximum of darkness save 
the one mentioned above. At the best the theory was 
at variance with the facts of common observation. It 
illustrates afresh the one-sided deductive bias of the 
mind of Anaxagoras and his indifference to the justifica- 
tion of his hypotheses. If his explanation were correct, 
the Milky Way would have to coincide with the ecliptic, 
whereas it is actually inclined to it, and an eclipse of the 
moon would be bound to occur whenever it passed over the 
Milky Way. Nevertheless we must recognize his argument 
as exceptionally ingenious, and must admit that the problem 
he approached was no idle intellectual riddle. Anaxagoras 
was probably a little exorbitant in his demands on the 
symmetry of cosmic phenomena. We have already had 
occasion to mark this tendency, which is by no means 
surprising in the author of the doctrine of Nous. But the 
sage of Clazomense may claim some points of contact with 
the astronomers of to-day. They too are not content to 
explain the Milky Way as due to an original irregularity 
in the distribution of cosmic matter. And they likewise 
seek for a mere optical delusion behind that huge exception, 
and they find it in they crowded condition which the stars 
assume in our eyes owing to the presumed lenticular 
shape of the Milky Way system to which the earth 


In the meteorology of Anaxagoras his correct explana- 
tion of the winds as due to changes of temperature and atmo- 
spheric density is worthy of mention ; and in his geography 
we may instance the account given of the rise of the Nile as 
the result of the melted snows in the mountains of Central 
Africa an account which antiquity pursued with ridicule, 
but which is at least partially correct Anaxagoras followed 
in Anaximander's footsteps with respect to the beginnings 
of organic life, but he struck out a path of his own in his 
doctrine that the first vegetable germs had fallen on the 
earth with the rain out of the air, which was filled with 
"seeds" of all kinds. This doctrine is probably to be 
connected with the great significance attached by the sage 
to the operation of air in organic life. Plants, for instance, 
In his theory were represented as breathing after a fashion, 
though the statement could have rested on no exact obser- 
vations, and he was the first to discover that fishes breathed 
through their gills. In other respects, too, Anaxagoras did 
not recognize any impassable gulf between the animal and 
the vegetable creations. Plants were supposed to participate 
at least in feelings of pleasure and pain, the pleasure 
being the accompaniment of the growth of trees, and pain 
of the loss of their leaves. Similarly, though no hint of the 
doctrine of evolution was compatible with his theory of 
matter, he refused to regard the various orders of the 
animal kingdom to transfer his expression from another 
context as "hewn asunder with an axe." It is diffi- 
cult to overpraise his tendency, which we have already 
had occasion to notice with approval, not needlessly to 
pile up specific differences on one another, and it saved 
him in this instance too from the mistakes of some later 
thinkers. In intellectual endowment he recognized only 
differences of degree, and his Nous was located by him in 
all animals without exception, the great and the small, 
the high and the low, with no other difference except 
that of quantity. 

4. Anaxagoras' theory of the senses need not detain us 
long. We should note, however, that it did not admit the 
principle of relativity except where the facts were quite 


unequivocal. In the feeling of temperature he was ready to 
allow that an object such as water will make a warmer 
impression on the sense, the colder the hand that tries 
it. But in general it may be said that he regarded the 
evidence of the senses as truthful, but weak. He 
affected to build up on it a completely true conception 
of the outer world, and our readers are already well 
acquainted with the doctrine of matter which the sage 
of Clazomense based on that foundation. Still, it will not 
be out of place to recall its features once more. There 
were two original premises, the first of which stated that 
"there is no change of qualities/' and the second of which 
asserted that " objects really possess the qualities which the 
senses reveal to us/' From these premises the inevitable 
conclusion was deduced that " every difference of sensible 
qualities is fundamental, original, and inalienable." There 
is, therefore, not one primary matter, or a few of them, but 
absolutely countless primary matters. Or, more precisely 
stated, nothing was left but the distinction between homo- 
geneous accumulations (homoiomeries) and heterogeneous 
mixtures, thus involving the disappearance of that between 
original and derivative forms of matter. Anaxagoras 
had reverted to the crude conception of nature held by 
primitive man ; he had abandoned the doctrine of primary 
matter which previous philosophers had taught, and he had 
even gone back on those early endeavours towards the 
simplification of the material world which are found in 
Homer, in the Avesta, or in the book of Genesis. The 
arguments underlying that doctrine were nevertheless not 
shaken. Their irresistible force still overwhelmed the 
inquirer with a conviction of the interdependence of the 
countless elements of matter, so that it might almost be 
said that postulates of equal cogency stood in irrecon- 
cilable opposition. The problem of matter, in a word, had 
been stranded on the shallows. It was a cid-de-sac from 
which there was but one possible outlet. The premises of 
the theory of primary matter had been completely refuted by 
the conclusions derived from them conclusions thoroughly 
false, as we now know, and incredible in themselves, as 


Anaxagoras' own contemporaries had not failed to per- 
ceive. But the premises were not therefore necessarily 
wrong ; they might merely have been incomplete, and if 
so, it would have been enough to supplement them without 
altogether rejecting them. The stumbling-block was 
rolled out of the way, and the belief in the qualitative 
constancy of matter, which we have learnt to call the 
second postulate of matter, could be permanently main- 
tained as soon as one condition was fulfilled. This 
condition was to recognize a part only of sensuous 
qualities as truly objective, and not their totality. The 
new doctrine of cognition came to the rescue of the old 
doctrine of matter. A distinction arose between objective 
and subjective, primary and secondary qualities of things, 
and this was the great intellectual feat which was alone 
calculated to reconcile the hitherto irreconcilable demands 
and which actually effected their reconciliation. A fresh tiej 
was added a higher one, though surely not the highest tc 
the rising mansion of science, and the name of Leucippu: 
must always be mentioned with honour in connection will 
this great service to philosophy. The vessel which hac 
grounded on the sands was floated once more through hi 
handiwork. And Anaxagoras deserves a hardly les 
honourable meed. It was his supreme merit, in our opinior 
to have made visible to the weakest sight the necessity c 
thus supplementing the theory of matter, for the unde 
viating logic of his arguments had not even shrunk fror 

As often happens, the renown which Anaxagora 
enjoyed in antiquity was due as much to the defects c 
to the qualities of his mind. His teaching was marke 
by a patriarchal dogmatism. His method of thought, an 
doubtless his manner as well, were stiff and hard ; the doi 
trines with which he frequently did violence to the commc 
sense of mankind were promulgated with oracular convi 
tion, and we can hardly doubt that by this he succeeded : 
exercising a fascinating influence far and wide. For h 
characteristics would have contrasted as sharply as possib 
with the vague uncertainty of his times. It was an aj 


of excessive mental suppleness, when thought was as full of 
the germs of scepticism as the air or water in the doctrine 
of Anaxagoras with the " seeds " of things. Nor can we 
altogether escape the record of a second impression. There 
was bound to be a little curling of the lips among the con- 
temporaries of Anaxagoras when their esteemed teacher 
paraded so intimate an acquaintance with all the secrets 
of the universe, as if he had personally assisted at the 
origin of the world ; when he proclaimed the wildest 
paradoxes his doctrin- of matter, for instance in tones 
of the calmest infallibility ; and when, with the confidence 
of revelation, he told stories of other worlds, worlds which 
repeated in detail the procession of earthly phenomena, 
worlds inhabited by a race of men who built their home- 
steads and ploughed their fields and carried their produce 
to the market and all this with the reiterated assurance, 
occurring like the burden of a song, "just as it is with us." 
Yes, it is quite comprehensible that Xenophon should have 
been expressing not merely his personal conviction, but 
a current opinion of his age, when he stated that the 
great philosopher was " a little off his head." The times 
in which he lived were seething with scepticism, but he 
stood apart from it in all respects except his attitude of 
disdain towards the popular religion. For the rest, he 
clung to the evidence of senses as it were to a rock, 
reminding us by his unquestioning faith of the least philo- 
sophic of modern followers of natural research ; he betrayed 
no taste or understanding for dialectic discussion, and 
probably neglected if he did not despise the subtle doubts 
and arguments of Zeno ; like a greater thinker 

" for ever 
Voyaging through strange seas of thought alone," 

he pursued his course with the unsuspecting temerity of 
a sleep-walker unconscious of obstacles, undisturbed by 
doubts, and undistracted by the difficulties of the way ; 
his arid teachings were unillumined by a spark of poetry 
or humour; and the solitary author of these apodictic 
and venturesome doctrines cannot always have cut the 
VOL. I. Q 


best figure among the great men of his age with their 
versatile gifts and their almost excessive pliability. Many 
people were greatly impressed by his fine air of calm 
and his confident self-esteem ; others execrated his bold- 
ness for looking too deeply into the secrets of the gods ; 
others, again, and these by no means the least numerous, 
must at least have regarded him as a little "twisted," if 
not as absolutely awry. To our thinking, Anaxagoras was 
a man of great deductive powers, of exceptional inventive- 
ness, and with a strongly developed sense of causation ; 
but these advantages were counteracted by a striking want 
of sound intuition, and by a virtual indifference to the 
justification by fact of his finely wrought hypotheses. 



THE modern traveller who visits Girgenti is reminded at 
every step of Empedocles, for the beautiful piety of the 
Italians, fostered by the continuity of their civilization, 
takes no count of chronological barriers. What Virgil Is 
to his Mantuans, Stesichorus to the inhabitants of Catania, 
and the great Archimedes to his fellow-citizens of Syra- 
cuse, so dear and so beloved is the memory of their great 
fellow-countryman Empedocles, the philosopher and the 
leader of the people, to the inhabitants of Girgenti.* He 
is worshipped as a democrat by the disciples of Mazzini 
and Garibaldi, because he overthrew the rule of the nobles 
who had oppressed Acragas for three years, and refused 
the royal crown for his own head. This tradition, which 
is credible in itself, is in unison with all that we know of 
the circumstances of his life and of the condition of his 
native city. Moreover, similar stirring scenes were enacted 
about that time in other Sicilian communities. The family 
of Empedocles was one of the most aristocratic in the 
country. It was at the height of its wealth and splendour 
at the date of his own birth between 500 and 480 B.C. 
In the year 496 B.C. another Empedocles, his grandfather,, 
had taken the prize at Olympia in the four-horse chariot 
race. A quarter of a century later, in 470 B.C., Meto, the 
father of the philosopher, had taken an active and promi- 
nent part among the citizens of Acragas in overthrowing the 
tyranny of Thrasidseus. We are, therefore, not overmuch 
* Agrigentum, Acragas* 


surprised to learn that the road to royal power stood open 
for his high-spirited and high-born son. Nor need we 
ascribe it to the motive of pure love for the people that 
Empedocles resigned the chance of solitary rule as well as 
a participation in the oligarchic government. His decision 
may well have been due to the force of shrewd common 
sense. As one of the founders of rhetoric, he was an 
orator as well as a thinker, and he may conceivably have 
hoped to play a more distinguished part under democratic 
institutions than in the narrow circle of his peers. Further- 
more, it is no mean title to fame to have refused a crown ; 
the crown that has not been worn is innocent of blood 
and mud, but the throne that has arisen from the troubled 
waters of revolution may lightly sink back into them. 
Empedocles lived in an age of ferment, when the princely 
dignity itself was not exempt from the changes of popular 
favour. But as a private man he was safe at least from 
the vengeful steel of the republican fanatic. If the wayward 
mob grew tired of his leadership it could drive him into 
exile, and this would appear to be the fate which actually 
overtook Empedocles. At the age of threescore years he 
succumbed to an accident in the Peloponnese, and died a 
stranger in a strange land. Antiquity deemed this end 
unworthy of the wonderful man, and, according to one fable, 
he perished in consequence of a leap into the crater of -^Etna, 
while another account sent him straight to heaven in a 
cloud of flame. 

But the strenuous ambition of Empedocles soared 
higher than all princely thrones. A shining palace on 
the bank of "the yellow Acragas " might be tempting 
enough, but the dominion over 800,000 subjects is in- 
significant in comparison with the mastery exercised over 
countless souls bound by no temporal or local conditions, 
by the sage, the seer, the miracle-worker. A king is 
inferior to a god, and no meaner boast did Empedocles 
make to his elect "I am an immortal god unto you; 
look on me no more as a mortal." In purple vestments, 
with a golden girdle, with the priestly laurel bound in 
the long hair that framed his melancholy features, and 


surrounded by the hosts of men and women who worshipped 
him, Empedocles made his progress through the Sicilian 
land. He was acclaimed by thousands and tens of 
thousands of the populace, who clung at his feet and 
implored him to direct them to a prosperous future, as well 
as to heal in the present their sickness and sores of all 
kinds. He claimed the sceptre of the winds, the key of 
the burning sunbeams and destructive falls of rain. And 
he could point to examples of his might. It was he who 
had freed the city of Selinus from its deadly pestilence by 
draining its soil ; it was he who had bored through a rock 
and opened a road for the north wind to give his native 
city a wholesome climate. His achievements as an 
engineer were matched by his achievements or promises 
as a physician. He had wakened from catalepsy a victim 
who had lain thirty days like a dead woman "without 
pulse or breath," and Gorgias, his disciple, had seen him 
" perform magic feats," a piece of evidence which cannot 
fairly be interpreted as referring to hypnotic or other 
cures due to the power of the imagination. 

It is difficult to form a just estimate of a mind and 
character in which the true gold of genuine merit was 
mixed with so strange an alloy of tawdry and showy 
tinsel. It is an excuse, though hardly a justification, to 
recall the peculiarities of the fellow-countrymen, and 
perhaps fellow-citizens, of Empedocles. The inhabitants 
of the island which proved the cradle of rhetoric, were 
always disposed to ostentation and pretence. The very 
ruins of the temples which crown the heights of Girgenti 
create a disagreeable impression of an exaggerated desire 
for effect. It is yet more difficult to trace the doctrines of 
our philosopher to their fountain-head, for they appear, at 
first sight at least, to be deficient in the virtue of strict 
consistency, and have not escaped the reproach of a vicious 

2. The physician, the hierophant, the orator, the 
politician, the author of works for the common good, 
whatever their secondary tastes, are united by their prime 
interest in man. We shall therefore expect to find that 


Empedocles the philosopher was an anthropologist as well 
as a cosmologist, and that his investigation of nature led 
him to the regions of physiology, chemistry, and physics, 
rather than to those of astronomy and mathematics. And 
the facts justify our expectation. The sage of Acragas never 
concerned himself with the science of space and numbers, 
and he was but an indifferent student of the science of the 
stars. In biological research, on the contrary, he intro- 
duced some fresh contributions which proved by no means 
unfertile ; but the crowning point of his work was attained 
in his doctrine of matter. It is hardly an exaggeration to 
say that Empedocles takes us at a bound into the heart of 
modern chemistry. We are confronted for the first time 
with three fundamental conceptions of that science : the 
assumption of a plurality, and of a limited plurality, of 
primary elements ; the premise of combination in which 
such elements enter ; and, finally, the recognition of 
numerous quantitative differences or proportional variations 
of the said combinations. 

It is not improbable in this connection that the 
practical physician led the footsteps of the speculative 
chemist Alcmaeon, who preceded Empedocles by about 
half a century, has already familiarized us with the theory 
that illnesses are caused by the conflict or disproportion of 
the heterogeneous elements contained in the animal body. 
It was a doctrine which had taken firm hold in medical 
circles at least, and which was used, according to Polybus, 
in a passage quoted above,* as a chief weapon against 
material monism. But apart from the attack from this 
quarter, that doctrine was obviously not well suited to give 
an exact account of the phenomena. No one can fail to 
perceive that with the progress of the study of nature the 
vague process of generalization was bound to defer more 
and more to detailed investigation and research. The old 
Ionian philosophers, with the honourable exception of 
Anaximenes, had acquiesced in an indefinite "transform- 
ism " which rested neither on well ascertained facts nor yet 
on precise reflection ; and when its defects had been exposed, 
* Bk. II. Ch. II. init. 


no second alternative remained but to refer the plurality 
of phenomena to an original plurality of material substances. 
Anaxagoras, the older contemporary and intellectual con- 
gener of Empedocles, approached the new task of philosophy 
in a spirit of defiance. He threw away the wine with the 
lees, rejecting at a single stroke all differences between 
the elements and the substances derived from them, thus 
returning for the nonce to the infancy of human thought. 
But Empedocles took a less violent method. In rejecting 
the single element he did not throw overboard the whole 
theory of elements. He may have learnt to appreciate 
the value of compromise in the school of practical politics, 
and this experience may have saved him from the error 
of the rigid " this or that " either one primary element or 
nothing but primary elements. The problem was to secure 
a plurality of fundamental elements, and in order to gain 
this end it was sufficient to join together the doctrines 
of Thales, Anaximenes, and Heraclitus ; or, to speak more 
precisely, it was sufficient to take a comprehensive view 
of the popular system of physics which lay at the root of 
the teaching of those philosophers, and in accordance 
with its tenets, to combine the Earth with Air, Fire, and 
Water. The "four elements" which compose and pre- 
serve the world, now surviving merely in folklore and 
poetry, have a long and glorious history* Aristotle 
embodied them in his theory of nature, and his authority 
sped them over the stream of the centuries, and impressed 
on the doctrine the stamp of unimpeachability. Never- 
theless it was devoid from the start of all intrinsic justifi- 
cation. It obviously rests on the crudest possible confusion, 
for we shall hardly be asked to prove that it reverts in 
the last instance to the distinction of the three states of 
aggregation the solid, fluid, and gaseous and that the 
fourth element which was added to these fundamental 
states was the mere accessory of a process, and was 
nothing but the phenomenon, so dazzling to the senses, 
which accompanies combustion. The mistake was to re- 
gard the fundamental forms of substance as homogeneous 
kinds and as the only fundamental kinds of substance. 


Despite these objections, the merit of the doctrine was 
incalculable. The value of a doctrine in the history of 
science is not always commensurate with its degree of 
objective truth. A theory may be wholly true, and yet 
the unpreparedness of human understanding may make 
it useless and abortive, whereas a second theory, though 
wholly untrue, may render abundant service to the progress 
of knowledge precisely on account of that stage of intellectual 
development. In the age with which we are dealing, and 
far beyond its confines, the doctrine of a single primary 
matter belongs to the first-named category of ineffectual 
theories ; in the same era and in those immediately 
succeeding to it the doctrine of the four elements belongs 
to the second of our categories. We may make as many 
deductions from the truth of the doctrine as we choose ; 
we may explain that no one of the elements was a genuine 
element ; that Water, which had the best claim to that 
title, was a compound combination ; that Earth and Air, on 
the contrary, were each but a single name for countless 
material substances partly simple and partly^ complex, each 
respectively in but one of its phenomenal shapes ; and we 
may discreetly pass over the nonentity of the element of 
Fire : still, this pseudo-science was, as it were, the bud from 
which the true flower of science was to unfold. A model 
was given which represented the fundamental conceptions 
of chemistry, and from which alone those conceptions 
could be derived. If philosophy had waited to form the 
conceptions of elements and combinations till it had 
become familiar with real elements and real combinations 
of the same, it might have waited for ever. For the goal 
of the theory of matter, like that of astronomy itself, was 
only to be reached by paths of error.* The reflections 
of Empedocles in this connection were as correct as their 
application was misleading. He was as reluctant as any 
of his predecessors to recognize an absolute beginning and 
end, and, moreover, he surpassed his predecessors in the 
clear grasp which he obtained of the positive counterpart 
of those negations. To him, as to Anaxagoras, each 
* Bk. L Ch. IV. i (pp. 114, 115). 


apparent beginning was really "only a mixture," each 
apparent end a mere separation of the mixture. But he 
leaves Anaxagoras behind in his perception and statement 
of the fact that the sensible qualities of a compound 
depend on the manner in which it is composed. His first 
hint of this perception is contained in a remarkably 
significant simile. To illustrate the endless multiplicity of 
qualities which objects offer to our senses, he recalled the 
process that is constantly at work on the artist's palette. 
He compared his four primary substances with the four 
primary colours used by the artists of his day, from the 
mixed proportions of which were derived the countless 
shades and gradations of hue. It may be urged that this 
is a mere simile, and not an explanation, but it is a simile 
which at least contains some of the elements of an expla- 
nation. It brings one important fact very clearly to light, 
that a merely quantitative difference in a compound of 
two or more elements causes a qualitative difference in its 
sensible qualities. It is not a mere matter of inference 
that Empedocles was master of this fact ; it may be 
directly proved by the testimony of his own writings. For 
with a venturesomeness which reacted on the details of 
the experiment, he attempted to reduce the qualitative 
differences in the parts of the human body to quantitative 
differences of composition. Thus flesh and blood were 
supposed to contain equal parts of the four elements 
equal in weight, and not in volume whereas the bones 
were composed of Fire to \ Earth and i Water. It 
cannot be disputed that he was obliged to employ this 
aid to explanation in the most comprehensive fashion, 
otherwise he could never have maintained with such 
emphasis the dependence of sensible qualities on the mode 
of composition as in the simile mentioned just now. The 
four elements in themselves could give but a very small 
number of possible combinations, viz. one four, four threes, 
and six twos. But as soon as the principle of proportional 
combination was admitted the possible number was infinitely 
extended, and the doctrine of Empedocles rose to the 
height of its intention, and was able to account for a 


really inexhaustible variety of substances. And here 
let us pause to remark that we are confronted with one 
of the most striking anticipations of the results of modern 
science. The chemistry of our century from Dalton down- 
wards is dominated by the theory of proportions or 
equivalents. In the realm of organic chemistry in especial, 
where the four primary elements C, H, O, N completely 
justify the comparison with the four primary colours 
borrowed from ancient painting, Its value is most signifi- 
cant, and in recent times we owe to it the discovery that 
the number of atoms in albuminoids, for instance, can be 
counted by their hundreds. 

3. Empedocles is at one with the modern chemist in 
his recognition of the changeless condition of the primary 
elements side by side with the Protean variation of their 
compounds. But of all the intermediate links in this chain 
of thought one alone, so far as we are aware, was fully 
grasped by Empedocles, namely, the significance mentioned 
above of proportional quantities in combination. He may 
have perceived, but he never clearly expressed his knowledge 
or acceptance of the second and more important fact that the 
qualities of a compound are affected by its structure, by the 
conditions of its parts in respect to situation and movement, 
and that a body which is distinguished from another body 
by these conditions will exercise a different influence on 
other bodies and on our organs of sense. Yet we fancy 
that Empedocles must have guessed at this fact, else he 
must have been content to forego every explanation of 
the circumstance that the elements in their combination 
"traverse each other," to use his own words, "and 
show a different face." And we miss something else in 
Empedocles. We look in vain in this connection for the 
full recognition and appreciation of the part which is 
played by the subjective factor in our sense-perceptions, 
though he comes much nearer to it than any of his pre- 
decessors except one. The exception is Alcmseon, the 
independent thinker and observer included in the Pytha- 
gorean circle, with whom time has dealt a little hardly. 
Alcmseon gives us the first hint of subjective sensible 


phenomena, and Empedocles, as may be abundantly testi- 
fied, followed in his footsteps. Alcmseon was the first and 
Empedocles was the second, and there was no intermediary 
thinker, who represented the interior of the eye as consisting 
almost entirely of Fire and Water. Hereon was based 
the comparison of the structure of the eye with the making 
of a lantern. The transparent plates to protect the flame 
from the wind which might extinguish it correspond in the 
eye to the thin films covering the contents of the orbit, 
which are partly of a fiery and partly of a watery nature. 
Next came the principle, probably derived from the 
analogy of the sense of touch and resistance, that like is 
recognized by like, and in accordance therewith the fiery 
parts of the eye were to recognize external fire, and the 
watery parts external water, those two elements being taken 
as the types of light and darkness. The act of perception 
was accomplished as follows. At the approach of fiery or 
watery effluvia from the substances, fiery or watery par- 
ticles went out to meet them from the funnel-shaped pores 
of the eye. The meeting was caused by the mutual attrac- 
tion of similar materials, and the perception was brought 
about by the contact of the particles entering the pores 
from without with those quitting them from within at a 
point outside the eye, though presumably close to its 
surface. Thus sight was assimilated to touch, light being 
touched by light and dark by dark, and it depended on 
which of the two elements was less strongly represented, 
and therefore more susceptible of its complement, in the 
eyes of the respective kind of animals or individuals whether 
they were better adapted to receive colour-impressions 
and to see clearly by daylight or by dusk. This view 
of the mechanism and the process of the act of sight 
is crude and fanciful enough. It does not even explain 
what it professes to explain, and countless questions arise 
to which it does not pretend to give an answer. Still it 
possesses one undisputed merit. It was an attempt, how- 
ever inadequate, to explain perception by intermediate 
processes,* It was an attempt, moreover, which admitted, 
* Cp. Bk. II. Ch. III. 2. 


however reluctantly, the subjective factor, thus completing 
one stage of the journey whose ultimate goal it is to recog- 
nize that our sense-perceptions are anything rather than 
the mere reflections of exterior objective qualities of things. 
Further, this theory of Empedocles did not wholly reject 
the principle of relativity. We saw that the increased mass 
of the fiery or watery matter contained in different eyes 
was to explain the differences of perception, and we may 
add that the shape and size of the pores were here, as in 
other instances of sensation, to permit or prevent the entry 
of the " effluvia." Such effluvia alone as corresponded with 
the pores were regarded as perceptible. Thus error once 
more was justified of its offspring, and this erroneous theory 
smoothed the way for a true insight into the nature of 
sense-perception. The old stumbling-block which left the 
human intelligence no choice save between a blind accept- 
ance and an equally blind rejection of the evidence of sense 
receded further and further in the distance. That evidence 
was more carefully guarded against the objections arising 
from individual or temporary differences of impression, and 
thus the knowledge derived from this source was at once 
restricted to narrower limits and more firmly secured 
within them. 

4. Empedocles displays in the rest of his allied doctrines 
the same merits and defects as in his physiology of sense. 
They exhibit a common tendency to reduce the physical 
and psychical phenomena of the human, animal, and 
vegetable worlds to universal natural processes. The 
barriers between the organic and inorganic, between the 
conscious and unconscious, were to be destroyed ; better 
still, they were never to be erected or completed. It was 
at once the strength and weakness of our philosopher that 
he looked so deeply into the unity of all natural and 
spiritual life. It was his weakness because his com- 
prehensive generalizations rested rather on a neglect of 
differences than on the evidence of likeness in difference, 
and because the experiment is fully as crude and pre- 
mature as the kindred attempt of Anaxagoras.* The 
* Cp.Bk. Il.Ch. IV. i. 


perception that made the deepest impression on the mind 
of Empedocles was that of the mutual attraction of like 
by like. This doctrine applied equally to the masses 
of homogeneous matter, earth, air, clouds, and sea, as to 
the parallel observation, taken from social life and raised 
to the dignity of a proverb, "like to like." On the other 
hand, the attraction depending on the difference of sex was 
but little taken in account, and the natural phenomena 
with which we have been familiarized by the doctrine 
of electricity, and which contradict this principle of 
attraction, were unknown at that time. Thus there 
was nothing to prevent the constant and general appli- 
cation of this so-called universal law. At one time it 
was used to explain the growth of plants ; at another the 
origin of the human race, and in both cases the fire in 
the interior of the earth was supposed to yearn towards 
the external fire, and thus impel to the surface and beyond 
it the various forms of vegetable life and the yet un- 
formed human "lumps" consisting of earth and water. 
Another illustration may be taken from the phenomenon 
of breath. Respiration was due, according to the doctrine 
of Empedocles, to the fire in the living organism which 
was impelled by the same force to drive out the air 
contained therein, and thus to bring about expiration. 
A further point to be noticed is that the dwelling-place 
of the various kinds of animals is determined, no less 
than the rest of their qualities, by the same fundamental 
principle of the predominance of a single element in each. 
Animals full of air seek the air, those full of w^ter make 
for the water, and those with a preponderance of earth 
in their composition have a natural bias to the earth. 
The perception of like by like ranks as a universal rule 
applicable not merely to the region of sense-perception, 
as we have already seen, but to the realm of thought 
itself. In the theory of sight which we have just 
examined we saw that like required to be completed 
by like, and the same principle was taken to govern all 
manifestations of desire, such as that of hunger, for 
instance, and to account no less for the sensation of 


pleasure in the satisfaction of desire than for that of 
pain in its non-satisfaction. Such doctrines, of course, 
were one-sided and partly fanciful, but we cannot escape 
the impression of grandeur which they create, recalling 
to our memory the breadth of the Heraclitean philosophy. 
Still, there is something refreshing in the occasional 
interruption of these monotonous elucidatory endeavours 
by a genuine observation of nature, however imperfectly 
it may have been applied. We come across an obser- 
vation of this kind, or, to speak more correctly, across a 
truth ascertained by experiment, in the account of the 
breathing, or exhalation, which takes place through the skin. 
Empedocles employed in this connection a very apt 
illustration. He took the case of a bottle held mouth 
downwards in a basin of water with a finger closely 
pressed against the opening, and remarked that even 
after the removal of the finger the bottle would not fill 
with water, though in other circumstances it would be 
flooded forthwith ; and he was quite clear on the point 
that it was the air which had been prevented from 
escaping from the bottle that kept the water from enter- 
ing. In the same way, so he argued, external air could 
only enter the body when the blood had receded from 
the surface and had welled back to the inner organs. 
The regular consecution of this tidal process of the blood 
accounted, according to his doctrine, for the exhalation 
through the pores of the skin. We see that Empedocles 
ascribed very considerable influence to this pretended 
universal law of the attraction of like by like. At the 
same time he could not possibly have regarded it as 
the only regulating principle. He must have sought 
some explanation of the origin and self-preservation of 
organic beings, each of which he perceived to contain 
more than one of the four elements or all the four at 
once. Hence he conceived, in the tendency of like to 
separate from like and of unlike to combine with unlike, a 
second principle precisely contrary to the first to check 
and control its operations. The existing order of things 
represented a kind of compromise between the two 


natural causes. The origin of each individual was due 
to the operation of the second tendency ; its nourishment, 
especially in the Empedoclean sense which we noticed just 
now, and its dissolution of earth to earth, air to air, and so 
forth, were due unmistakably to the first. At this point 
we must revert for a moment to the teaching of Anaximander 
and Anaxagoras about the differentiation of matter and 
the separation of the elements. Those philosophers had 
taught that such processes were not primeval, but that they 
were preceded in time by a condition of complete homo- 
geneity of matter in which the individual substances were 
either not yet differentiated or were thoroughly mixed and 
combined. Now, by adopting this belief, whether at the 
hands of his predecessors or by his own investigations, 
Empedocles reached a point in time at which one of the 
two fundamental tendencies in all natural life would 
have reigned in solitary splendour. That was the time 
when the attraction of like by like was entirely out- 
weighed by the rival principle of the attraction of unlikes. 
Having reached that point, the symmetry of thought 
would have rendered it practically necessary to provide a 
similar period of solitary reign for the first and more 
powerful principle. Finally, Empedocles, following in the 
footsteps of Anaximander, Heraclitus, and at least a 
proportion of the Pythagoreans,* and regarding all 
phenomena as cyclical in character, would not have con- 
sidered the succession of these two epochs of the world 
as having taken place once for all, but as a constantly 
recurring alternation of such periods. This, in fact, was 
his teaching, and he selected as its vehicles a couple 
of forces, working in consecutive epochs of temporary 
superiority. These powers dominated matter under 
the names of " Friendship " and " Discord." It was the 
part of the first to combine and unite substances 
of different natures, whereas Discord, as soon as its 
turn arrived, broke those bonds of union and left the 
elements free to obey their natural tendency of like to 
like. It was not supposed that each of the two powers 
* Bk. I. Ch. V. 4. 


vanquished the other suddenly or at one blow. The 
steady conflict went on during each of the successive 
periods, and one by one they obtained the mastery, till 
the weaker in each instance was gradually supplanted, and 
then devoted itself again to recuperative efforts with a view 
to reversing the victory. Thus Empedocles distinguished in 
the ebb and flow of this movement between two eras of 
rise and decay, first, the triumph of Friendship and the 
ensuing growth of Discord ; next, the triumph of Discord and 
the growth of Friendship. We have tried to give a correct 
account of the nature of this conception, but there is 
still one feature which calls for further remark. There 
is something eminently characteristic of the deep insight 
into nature which distinguished Empedocles in the 
gradual method of transition by which he conceived 
the supremacy to pass from one power to the other. 
It manifests his incredulous attitude towards sudden 
and immediate changes and his view of their continuity 
as a fundamental law of the universe. Taking the 
successive periods as the zenith and the nadir, then the 
first, when Friendship is at its height, will correspond to 
a condition of things which 'we may compare with the 
primeval " confusion " of Anaxagoras and its analogue in 
Anaximander. An immense sphere contains the elements, 
which are molten and mingled in indiscriminate chaos. 
The zenith of Discord presents us with quite a contrary 
picture. The four fundamental types of matter will be 
almost completely sundered from one another, and will be 
gathered separately in a conglomerate mass before our 
eyes. But the attention of Empedocles was chiefly 
directed to the problem of organic life, and this can 
neither begin nor prosper at one or the other culminating 
point of the successive periods. For each organism is 
composed of several elements combined with one another 
* in varying proportions. Such elements exist, in the 
external world from which the organism derives its 
nourishment, in a state of at least partial separation 
or rather easily separable but at the same time they must 
be capable of combining with one another. At neither 


of the t\vo culminating points are both conditions present 
at once ; the first is wanting when Friendship has the 
upper hand, and the second In the reign of Discord. 
They are never found in conjunction except In the two 
transitional stages which divide the extremes of cosmic 
evolution. Thus organic life can only originate and 
flourish at the two focal points where the streams of 
tendency cross each other; and as soon as one or other 
of the upward movements reaches its goal or zenith, organic 
life will always be annihilated. 

5. We have now briefly to advert to the details of the 
Empedoclean cosmology. Neither by its virtues nor by ; 
its faults has its influence been considerable, and our in- 
formation in this respect is, moreover, defective. We can 
but suggest a conjectural answer to the question whether 
our philosopher regarded the earth as round or cylindrical in 
shape. He agreed with Anaxagoras in supposing that the 
quality of order or " cosmos " had hitherto been acquired 
by a part only of primeval matter. At the period when 
friendship was at its zenith, the communion and com- 
minglement of the elements lent it the shape of a 
motionless ball which was invested with the attributes of 
personality and bliss under the name of Sphairos. 
Material separation began, according to a verse of Empe- 
docles, with a severance of " the heavy " and " the light," 
and it is legitimate to conjecture that the mechanical 
agent was a kind of whirlwind which collected the heavier 
matter, consisting of mixed earth and water, in the central 
spot which is now our own place of habitation. One point 
remains obscure. We are unable to identify the original 
notive in this process, which made it possible for "all 
:he limbs of the god to move in turn." Fire first, and 
i portion of the air, escaped upwards. The air was 
supposed to have been fastened to the crystalline vault of 
leaven under the influence of fire, and to have acquired a 
dnd of glaze. The remaining central mass soon came to 
i standstill, but the regions round the earth continued 
:heir rotatory movement/ and their pressure squeezed the 
yater out of the quiescent mass. Meantime the heavenly 
VOL. I. R 


fire drew the air that still remained for some unknown 
reason In this sea or " sweat of the earth " by the process 
of evaporation. The problem suggests itself why the earth 
should have stood still, and why it should not have sunk 
downwards, and Empedocles met his questioners by an 
argument from analogy which, if it failed to do anything 
else, would at least excite our admiration for the vivid and 
mobile genius by which he united the most discrepant 
conceptions. While he was groping about to explain the 
apparent quiescence of the earth, he remembered by a 
happy inspiration a trick as familiar in the fairs of 
antiquity as in those of this day. Several goblets are 
filled with water or with some other fluid, and are then 
tied to a hoop with their open mouths pointing inwards. 
The hoop is then set in swift rotation, and the essence of 
the trick is that the water does not escape. Empedocles 
seized on this mountebank's exploit for the solution of his 
problem. Set the goblets revolving quickly, and their 
contents will not escape ; set the firmament revolving 
quickly, and the earth at its centre will not slip. Empe- 
docles was content with this analogy, though it provokes 
a smile to-day and is hardly intelligible at first sight We 
know that the fluid is constantly impelled to the bottom 
of the goblet, and its attempts to escape are counteracted 
by centrifugal force. But that force could never have been 
brought into play if the fluid itself had not been made to 
rotate together with the goblet that contained it, and we 
ask with surprise how any one could have come to 
compare the relative quiescence of the fluid with the 
presumptive absolute quiescence of the earth. But Em- 
pedocles was not in possession of that causal insight. 
In both cases he regarded the smaller force and velocity 
of the downward tendency as overcome by the " quicker " 
rotatory movement Empedocles, we must remember, was 
a warm-blooded Sicilian, whose brilliant intellect was dis- 
tinguished by breadth rather than by depth of thought. 
He had a keen scent for analogies, and the mistake he 
made in this instance was characteristic of his hasty con- 
clusions. He explained the alternation of day and night 


by the revolution of the firmament, which consisted in 
his theory of two hemispheres, the one light and the 
other dark. Furthermore, the sun was not conceived as 
shining by its own light, but as a kind of glass-like body 
absorbing and reflecting the light of ether. In this 
doctrine Empedocles may have given a lead to the 
younger Pythagoreans.* He agreed with Anaxagoras in 
supposing that the light of the moon was borrowed from 
the sun, and, further, in his correct explanation of the 
eclipses of the two luminaries. He agreed with Alcmaeon 
in distinguishing between the fixed stars, literally fixed in 
heaven, and the freely moving planets. At this point, 
however, we may leave his meteorological speculations. 
They were partly correct and generally ingenious, but we 
may return more profitably to his theories about organic 
life and its origin. 

6. Two modes were suggested for the beginnings of 
organic being. On the one which rests on the progress 
of the separation of the elements our information is in- 
complete ; we have already made acquaintance with the 
shapeless lumps from which mankind was later to be 
formed, and which constitute the sole reference to this 
aspect of the question. When we come to the gradual 
and continuous perfection of the forms of animal and 
vegetable life under the sign of " Friendship," our authority 
is fuller. The vegetable world was supposed to have 
preceded the animal, and to have belonged to a period 
anterior to the present inclination of the axis of the earth 
a detail which once more reminds us of Anaxagoras, 
The belief that the less perfect preceded the more perfect 
is the guiding thought of his zoogony, which, fanciful as it 
was, was yet not wholly devoid of scientific significance. 
First of all, single limbs were supposed to have sprung 
from the earth "heads," for instance, "without neck and 
trunk/' "arms without shoulders," and "eyes without a 
face." Some of these fragmentary creatures were bound 
together by Friendship, others were driven to and fro in a 
solitary condition, unable to effect a landing and gain a 
* Cp, Bk. I. Ch. IV. 2. 


foothold on the "shore of life." Whenever such com- 
binations took place, all kinds of monsters would be created, 
"double-headed and double-breasted beings," "human 
forms with heads of bulls," "bodies of bulls with human 
heads," and so forth. These grotesque shapes disappeared 
as quickly as the original separate limbs, and only such 
combinations as exhibited an inner harmony evinced 
themselves as fit for life, maintained a permanent place, 
and finally multiplied by procreation. It is impossible not 
to be reminded here of the Darwinian survival of the fittest. 
There is nothing to prevent and everything to favour the 
belief that we are confronted with an attempt, as crude as 
it could be, but yet not entirely unworthy of respect, to 
explain in a natural way the problem of design in the 
organic world. Empedocles used the processes of vegetable 
and animal life as the favourite playground of his genius 
for research. Gleams of inspiration are crossed by glimpses 
of childish impertinence in which the philosopher fondly 
expects to rob nature of her veil before he has learnt the 
A B C of renunciation. Among the inspired utterances 
we may quote the saying that "hair and foliage and the 
thick plumage of birds are one." It is a thought which 
makes Empedocles a predecessor of Goethe in the realm 
of comparative morphology, and though its author hardly 
used it, it was yet a fresh contribution towards the theory 
of descent. The child in Empedocles must answer for the 
fantastic attempts to explain the deepest secrets of pro- 
creation the birth of male or female offspring, their 
resemblance to the father or the mother, the production 
of twins or triplets, the shocks sustained by pregnant 
women and their supposed relation to birthmarks, the 
origin of monstrosities, and the sterility of mules. Less 
fanciful was his conception of sleep as a partial, and of 
death as a total, chilling of the blood. 

We have already directed attention to the links by 
which the Empedoclean theory of matter is closely united 
with his theory of cognition. We have made acquaintance 
with his maxim that like is recognized by like, " earth by 
earth, water by water, divine ether by ether, destructive 


fire by fire," and the conjecture lay ready to hand that 
Empedocles regarded matter Itself as endowed with con- 
sciousness, and that he drew no strict distinction between 
the animate and the inanimate worlds. The conjecture is 
justified by the facts. Empedocles did not merely follow 
Anaxagoras in ascribing sensibility to plants, but he 
taught that, without exception, " everything possesses the 
power of thought and a share in understanding." Attempts 
have been made to divide Empedocles from his prede- 
cessors, the Hylozoists, and even to represent him as 
opposed to them in principle, on account of his doctrine 
of the two immaterial forces causing the succession of 
universal periods. That doctrine, it must be admitted, 
introduced a dualistic germ in his system, but it never 
took root nor made any growth, and we are now in a 
position to see how completely erroneous these attempts 
were. For beside the two alternately ruling powers, 
and superior to them, there was, as our readers are 
aware, a single natural force of truly universal sway 
inherent to matter itself the attraction of like to 
like. Next, there is the extraordinary power of thought 
which he ascribed to matter, and the universal extension 
of the franchise of consciousness. The doctrine of Em- 
pedocles might be called Hylozoism in excekis. It gave 
to matter not merely life, but a soul. And there is a 
second point to be mentioned in contravention of the view 
that Empedocles regarded matter as something dreary 
and dead, responsive to outside impulses alone, but not as 
the seat of motion in itself. If this had been his opinion 
by no conceivable right could he have given to his four 
elements the names of gods, and of gods, moreover, who, 
like Hera and Zeus, occupied the highest places in the 
Greek Pantheon. It has been urged that this was nothing 
but a poetic licence without any serious meaning. But we 
are not convinced by that argument. The author of a new 
theory, in our opinion, is commonly fully aware of the 
innovation he is making, and of its contrast with older 
doctrines ; he tends rather to emphasize those features 
than to weaken and destroy their force by clothing them 


in antiquated forms. Further, It may be noticed that 
Aristotle at least took those names as signifying some- 
thing more than mere rhetorical devices. He expressly 
states of the Empedoclean elements that " these, too, are 
gods to him." But without enumerating these more or 
less secondary arguments, we need but refer to the verse 
quoted above, in which the problem whether its author was 
or was not a champion of the theory of universal anima- 
tion is decided once and for all. And if any shadow of 
doubt should yet remain, it will be allayed by the following 
consideration. We remember that the recurring triumph 
of " Friendship " which united the aggregate of matter to 
indivisible unity raised it each time to the highest divine 
honours under the name of Sphairos ; and we are unable 
to believe that the mere fact of combination could have 
endowed with consciousness, filled with force, and exalted 
to divine bliss substances which in their separate condition 
were dead, powerless, inert, and responsive merely to 
impulses from without And our belief is the less con- 
strained since the Sicilian philosopher was here a 
strict logician, and maintained his fundamental theory 
in its ultimate consequences. Thus, though he would doubt- 
less have been inclined to ascribe every kind of cognition 
to this "most blessed god," yet the divinity was found 
wanting' in one respect. He lacked the knowledge of 
" Discord," inasmuch as Discord was foreign to the pious 
peace of his universe. For not merely was each element 
perceived and recognized by that same element, but 
" Friendship " was recognized " by Friendship," and 
" Discord by horrid Discord." 

7, We have eulogized Empedocles on account of his 
consistency, but when we come to his psychological 
teaching it would seem that our praise must be recalled. 
It was dualistic in character. It comprised on the one side 
what is practically his physics of the soul. Turning to 
this first, we see that he reduced the psychical to the 
material without exception and without intervention. He 
did not even postulate an intermediate soul-substance, 
but lie based all differences of psychical properties and 


functions on corresponding material differences, as well in 
the species of beings as in individual beings, and in the 
varying states of the individual 

" E'en as the matter at hand, so man increaseth in wisdom ; " 

" Ever as men do change, there cometh in constant succession 
One thought after another." 

Every preferential endowment was traced by Empe- 
docles to the wealth of material composition and the 
success of the admixture. Thus he explained the 
superiority of organic beings to the inorganic creation 
containing but a few elements or one only. Thus, too, 
he explained the superiority of individual gifts, such as 
the pre-eminent tongue of the orator and the master-hand 
of the sculptor. And hence, further, he derived the adapta- 
tion of the blood, as that part of the body in which the 
combination was most complete, to be the agent of the 
highest functions of the soul. Empedoctes conceived 
the blood welling forth from its source in a pure and un- 
troubled stream as displaying the four elements in their 
most equable proportions. And in this belief he wrote 
that "the blood of the heart is thought." 

The other side of the dualism we have mentioned is 
found, if the expression be permissible, in the Empedoclean 
theology of the soul. Every soul is a "demon" which 
has been thrust out of its heavenly home to "the 
unamiable fields," "the joyless place," the valley of 
lamentation. There it assumes the most diverse shapes. 
Empedocles himself claimed to have passed through the 
metamorphoses of a boy, a girl, a bush, a bird, and a fish. 
The soul is bound to that habitation by its native guilt, 
especially of bloodshed or perjury, and the "vagrant fugitive" 
cannot return to its original home, if at all, till after the 
lapse of 30,000 wpaij or 10,000 years. We have already 
made acquaintance with this doctrine. It is a reproduction 
of the Orphic-Pythagorean psychology depicted in glowing 
colours and adorned with all the magic of an inspired and 
fervid eloquence; and, appropriately enough, we find 


Empedocles extending a meed of eulogy and honour to 
the "mighty mind" of Pythagoras. He describes in 
moving verse the fatal mistakes to which orthodoxy itself 
may impel those who are uninitiated in metempsychosis. 
There was the blinded father, for example, who was fain 
to offer an acceptable sacrifice to the gods and slew 
unwittingly the son of his own loins, thus preparing a 
fatal meal for himself with the very words of prayer on 
his lips. Similarly, sons devoured their mother, and not 
till too late did the guilty appeal to Death, who might 
have saved them from the execution of their horrible 
misdeed. The road of purification was a long road, and 
its steps were marked by centuries ; nor could sinful men 
regain their lost divinity till they had climbed the topmost 
rungs of the ladder of earthly existence as seers or poets 
or physicians or princes. Side by side with the process 
of moral perfection went a series of outward ceremonies, 
initiations, and libations, to which Empedocles devoted 
an entire poem which was called the book of "Purifica- 
tions." Its remnants combine with the fragments of his 
three books " On Nature " to form his literary bequest. 

Here, then, we have the two parts of the Empedqclean 
psychology, and it may reasonably be asked how two 
such different doctrines, which practically exclude each 
other, could have found a common resting-place in one 
mind. It is little or no explanation to utter the word 
Eclecticism. We have seen that, apparently, at least, a 
great gulf was fixed between the spiritualistic doctrine on 
the one side and the materialistic on the other, and 
if this gulf really existed there are but two conclusions we 
can draw. Either the philosopher himself must have been 
lacking in reason and judgment or he must have counted 
on finding those defects in his readers, to whom he 
offered this contradictory dualism as the expression of 
his serious conviction. But in point of fact there is no 
need for any such desperate resort. The apparent con- 
tradiction was partly non-existent, and was partly by no 
means limited to Empedocles. His "soul-demon," like 
the " soul " or psyche of most of his predecessors, was not 


the vehicle of psychical qualities denoting an individual or 
a kind of beings.* In proof of this we may quote his own 
express statements in the passages that refer to his 
previous existence ; for the bush, the bird, or the fish, 
which he claimed to have been, obviously bore no remotest 
resemblance to the richly dowered human personality 
which he felt himself at the time. It was the same 
with the popular belief which the Homeric poems had 
already embodied. The psyche of Homer played pre- 
cisely the same idle part in the existence of man on 
earth as the "soul-demon" in Empedocles. The fact 
may arouse our surprise, but it is beyond dispute. Psyche's 
sole raison d'etre would appear to be her separation from 
the body at death and her survival in the underworld. 
Not a single instance can be quoted in which she 
appears as the agent of human thought, will, or emotion. 
We may go further than this. Those functions, so far 
from being performed by the Homeric psyche, actually 
belonged to a being of quite a different formation to 
a perishable being which dissolved in air at the death 
of animals and men. To that extent it is even legiti- 
mate to speak of a two-soul theory in Homer, and 
this second mortal soul went by the name of Thymos. 
The word is identical with the Latin fumus, or smoke, 
with the Sanskrit dhumas, the Old Slavonic dymu> and so 
forth. We were ignorant of the nature of this smoke-soul 
till it was illustrated by a remark of Alfred von Kremer, 
who in the course of his inquiries into Oriental peoples 
and civilizations, stated that "the steam ascending from 
the warm and freshly-shed blood" was regarded as the 
psychic agent. The smoke-soul is older in origin than 
the exclusively Greek psyche. Its antiquity is proved 
by the existence of the word with partially the same 
meaning in the allied languages, and traces of its original 
signification still linger in some isolated references in 
Homer, as when, in awaking from unconsciousness, Thymos, 
who was nearly scattered, is collected in the breast or 
diaphragm. Thus when the breath-soul came in the field, 
* Cp. Bk. I. Ch. V. 4 (p, 144). 


the ground was already occupied by the smoke-soul or 
blood-soul, and the later comer had to be content with a 
more modest though nobler part. The situation remained 
unchanged for many centuries. The poet Pindar, for 
instance, wrote that " Psyche, who alone is descended from 
the gods, slumbers as long as the limbs are in motion," 
and the popular religion agreed with him in ascribing no 
activity to Psyche except in dreams. It was not till 
science began to extend itself to the phenomena of the 
soul that the old process of thought, dating from centuries 
before, was repeated afresh. Thymos had long since lost its 
original meaning, and was therefore altogether inadequate 
to the demand for a material principle of explanation ; 
so that Empedocles, in placing the seat of psychic activity 
in the blood of the heart, may be said to have invented 
the blood-soul for the second time in its history. And 
if he still retained a belief in the immortal soul, he was 
not, therefore, more inconsistent than the poets of the 
Homeric age, or even than his immediate predecessor 
Parmenides. For Parrnenides too reduced to material 
causes not merely the moral qualities, but the temporary 
psychic states of men.* Moreover, he ascribed a partial 
perception of darkness and cold and silence even to dead 
human bodies, and in his theory no beings whatsoever, 
not even the objects that at no stage of their existence 
were connected with a psyche, were without some kind 
of perception. Nevertheless, his doctrine did not exclude 
a belief in the soul and its immortality. Under Orphic 
influence, no doubt, he represented the souls as descending 
into Hades, and as reascending thence to the upper world. 
Philolaus, a younger Pythagorean, proved himself in this 
respect an apt follower of Parmenides. The elder master 
had derived the "mind of man" from the composition 
and elemental mixture of his bodily parts, and Philolaus 
called the soul itself a "mixture and harmony" of such 
parts, though this in no wise prevented him from 
assuming the existence of a substantial soul, and from 
believing, in accordance with the teaching of "old divines 
* Cp. Bk. II. Ch. ILj?*. 


and soothsayers," that it was exiled to the body as the 
penalty of guilt. 

And this is the conclusion of the whole matter. The 
belief in an immortal psyche might very well have been 
dispensed with, but Empedocles was no more inclined to 
reject it than were the representatives of the popular religion 
or his own philosophical forebears and contemporaries. In 
other words, he was liable to the same religious as well as 
scientific motives as was the rest of the world. We next 
come to the question of his self-contradiction. He made 
the fate of the soul dependent on the acts of the men 
whose bodies it temporarily inhabited ; at the same time 
he reduced the mental disposition of those men the source 
of their conduct, that is to say to the material composition 
of their bodies. Such is the charge, and it is admittedly 
proven. But he shares the responsibility for the contradic- 
tion, not merely with the Orphics, whose psyche certainly 
meant nothing more than that of a Pindar or a Parmenides, 
but its germ can clearly be traced back to the Homeric 
poems themselves. For even there the contradiction is 
glaring. Some souls at least, such as those of Tityus, 
Tantalus, and Sisyphus, are paying, in the eleventh book 
of the Odyssey, the penalty for crimes which the immortal 
souls cannot be held to have committed, according to the 
doctrine prevailing in the totality of the poems even down 
to their latest additions. The history of religion in all ages 
is rife with similar anomalies. We need hardly refer to the 
conflict between predestination and retribution in the eccle- 
siastical canons of medievalism, or to the Buddhistic doc- 
trine, so completely parallel to the Orphic, of the retributive 
reincarnation of the dead, who were at the same time denied 
the possession of a substantial soul. It is difficult, if not 
impossible, to explain away this contradiction from the 
central tenets of the widest-spread of all religions ; and 
the " Questions of King Milinda," with their extraordinary 
endowment of ingenious subtlety, are sufficient testimony 
to that fact The spirit of science was as strong in Empe- 
docles as the sway of religious emotion, so that both con- 
flicting tendencies were intensified in his instance. That 


was the characteristic of Empedocles, and it stamps him 
with a grotesque trait. He appears at one and the same 
time as an orthodox member of the Orphic community, 
filled with pious faith, and as an eager champion of 
scientific natural research, as the heir of venerable mystics 
and priests, and as the immediate precursor of the atomic 
physicists. This duality may have interrupted the con- 
sistency and uniformity of his system, so rigidly maintained 
up to a certain point, but it affords a shining testimony to 
the universality of his sympathies and to the wealth of his 
natural endowments. 

8. Curiously enough, in the theology of Empedocles, 
where it would seem most likely that his dualism would 
have displayed itself, there is scarcely a trace of it to be found. 
Here he succeeded in welding the two halves of his system of 
thought in a practically undisturbed harmony. On the top 
of his conception of matter as endowed with force and 
consciousness there was obviously no room for an extra- 
mundane deity controlling, ordering, or even creating the 
world. But there was no obstacle to his belief in divine 
beings of the kind which we met with in the other Hylo- 
zoists and designated gods of the second rank. We are 
already aware that the four divinely conceived elements 
of Empedocles disappear at the time of their union in 
Sphairos, and lose their separate existence ; and we now 
have to add that the same fate, presumably in the same 
moment of the restoration of the original universal 'unit}', 
likewise overtook the rest of the gods to whom Empedocles 
expressly denied immortality, calling them long-lived, but 
not eternal. The universal periods by which their longevity 
was limited presumably served to measure the fate of the 
soul-" demons " as well. Thus his theology and psychology 
were linked by a common bond ; one and the same term 
was set to all the separate existences which might disturb 
the perfect unity of being. Except in a single instance, 
no details are forthcoming anent these secondary gods, 
but in some memorable verses about Apollo, Empedocles 
describes him as not possessed of human limbs, and calls 
him "a spiritual being (Phren), holy, ineffable, hastening 


with swift thoughts through the world." To our thinking 
it is as inadmissible to identify this "demon* 1 with 
Sphairos the animate universe or universal godhead as 
to subordinate Sphairos, in whom all things are comprised, 
to this deity. 

There is, therefore, no serious reason to reproach Em- 
pedocles with eclecticism or with borrowing other men's 
thoughts without taking overmuch trouble to see that they 
were suitable. But a certain weight is lent to the charge 
by a defect of the philosopher's mind which was intimately 
blended with its qualities. He was a thinker of restless 
activity, constantly engaged in the pursuit of fresh problems 
and standing in the closest communion with nature, and 
thus his spirit lacked the patience which Is absolutely 
necessary for the prosecution of every thought to its goal. 
At the same time, despite the wealth of his teeming imagi- 
nation, he failed to exhibit that sovereign self-security 
which would have enabled him to neglect the bounds of 
empirical knowledge, and which enabled Anaxagoras, for 
instance, to raise his pseudo-chemistry to a system as de- 
ficient in outward proof as it was internally homogeneous. 
The best illustration of this habit of his mind will be found 
in his relation with the Eleatics. We may safely assume 
that Empedocles was acquainted with the didactic poem of 
Xenophanes ; indeed, the fact is vouched for by the occa- 
sional attitude of hostility which he assumed towards it, 
and we may fairly trace the influence of the sage of 
Colophon in the pantheistic doctrine of Empedocles, culmi- 
nating in the conception of Sphairos, and in his dislike for 
the anthropomorphism of the popular religion, which in 
one instance at least, as we have just now seen, came to 
unequivocal utterance. Further, his acquaintance with a 
second Eleatic philosopher is proved by his frequent imita- 
tion of verses by Parmenides, with whose poems he must 
have been familiar. An enduring impression was made on 
his mind by the teachings of his predecessor contained In the 
" Words of Opinion," and relating to physics in the widest 
sense of that term. The same is true in a less degree of 
the metaphysics of Parmenides Empedocles adopted in 


an almost literal form Ms a priori demonstration of the 
impossibility of birth and decay. But we have to go back 
to Anaxagoras to find a clearer and more precise statement 
than is to be found in Empedocles of what we have called 
the second postulate of matter. Empedocles, it is true, 
was convinced of the general stability of the elements, but 
what we miss is an accurate application of that principle. 
His optics were based on the presumption that every ele- 
ment had a fixed and original property of colour, but we 
look in vain for a clear explanation of the endless multi- 
plicity of coloured substances proceeding from these primary 
colours. Anaxagoras's theory of matter was capable of 
explaining how the four elements "traversing one another 
showed a different face." His account, though contradicted 
by the facts, was consistent with itself and with the postu- 
late of qualitative constancy. But Empedocles failed in 
both particulars. And as it is impossible to believe that 
Anaxagoras was acquainted with or appreciated even the 
outline of the didactic poems of Parmenides, our conviction 
is strengthened that both postulates of matter the second 
no less than the first were necessarily evolved from the 
theories of Ionian physiologists, and that they owed to the 
Eleatics, not their invention, but merely their stricter for- 
mulation.* At the close of an earlier chapter f we left it 
doubtful whether and to what extent an intermediary link 
was required to connect the older forms of the theory of 
primary matter with the later stages of its development 
That doubt, we venture to think, has now been satisfac- 
torily resolved. 

* Bk. II. Clu II. 3- t Cp. Bk. II. Ch, III./?*. 




i. THE intellectual enfranchisement of the Greeks did not 
exclusively follow the lines of natural research. The con- 
ditions of time as well as of space by which their horizon 
was contracted were responsible for the endurance of 
mythological modes of thought. We have already been 
occupied by occasional attempts to widen the spatial 
bounds, and the limits of both were extended simultaneously 
and permanently by the rise of twin-sciences which were 
soon united in the same hands. 

Greek historiography began with the civic chronicles, 
the lists of priests, and the records of victors in the national 
games. Mercenaries, freebooters, merchants, and colonists 
were the pioneers of Greek geography, and the powerful 
independent intellect of Hecataeus was the first to combine 
in one grand sweep both these regions of knowledge. His 
wide travels and his still wider inquiries had supplied him 
with a treasury of information which he was able to put at 
the disposal of his Ionian countrymen in their insurrection 
against the Persian rule (502496 B.C.) in his capacity as a 
master of statecraft and an accomplished diplomatist. The 
results of his investigation were contained in two works of 
which we possess merely fragmentary remains. The first 
was entitled "A Description of the Earth," and its three 
books were called after the names of the continents, Europe, 
Asia, and Libya, and the second was comprised in his four 
volumes of " Genealogies." This historical work was prefaced 
by a motto which, in its intellectual pride and the cold clarity 


of its reason, sounds in our ears to-day like the blare of 
trumpets at dawn. " Thus speaketh," it runs, " Hecataeus 
of Miletus. I have written everything down as it appeared 
to me to be true ; for manifold and laughable are the 
sayings of the Hellenes, as they seem to me." Once more, 
then, we find ourselves at the cradle of criticism. The 
same light that Xenophanes had poured on the natural 
universe Hecataeus was now to pour on the universe of 
human affairs. The cause and method of his doing so are 
practically revealed in the very wording of his audacious 
prelude. He was obliged to exercise his selective faculty 
in the contradictions of historical tradition, and we see 
that the spirit of rationalism had already taken hold of him 
in the courage he displayed in applying the knife of criticism 
to the historical absurdities incompatible with his standards 
of credibility and possibility. Nor was he content to accept 
one tradition and to reject another. He felt himself 
justified to revise those legends and to extract the kernel 
of truth from its legendary husk. His object was to 
relate the facts as they appeared to him to be true. He 
had no archives or evidences at his disposal whose age and 
origin and mutual dependence he might have sifted, for 
the practice of recording contemporary events in a trust- 
worthy manner was of late growth in Greece. The myths 
and the poets who related them were the vehicles of by 
far the greater part of historical material, though prose 
authors began to range themselves by the side of the 
poets somewhile after 600 B.C. Hecataeus was accordingly 
precluded from questioning witnesses and authorities, and 
from testing their degree of credibility. His faculty of 
judgment was confined to the use of inner criteria. He 
had to abandon criticism or to practise subjective criticism 
alone. His method was one which has been called the 
semi-historical an expression we prefer to that of " the 
rationalistic," which is liable to abuse. Meanwhile we have 
still to mention a factor of decisive importance. The wide 
view of foreign legends and histories did not merely con- 
tribute its considerable share to the distrust of national 
traditions ; it also pointed the way which would have to 


be followed unless the investigator was determined with 
undiscriminating iconoclasm to throw the whole mythology 
overboard. One experience that occurred to Hecateus 
may be related here as typical of the impressions which he 
and his like had frequently to derive from their contact 
with older civilizations. He was talking to the priests in 
Egyptian Thebes, and he had shown them, doubtless with 
a certain complacency, his genealogical tree, which began 
with a divine ancestor separated from Hecataeus only by 
fifteen generations. Thereupon the priests led him into a 
hall where the statues of the high priests of Thebes were 
placed. They numbered no less than three hundred and 
forty-five, and Hecataeus was assured by his close-shaven 
guides that each of the statues had been erected during the 
lifetime of its original, that the priestly dignity was 
hereditary, and that the high office had descended unin- 
terruptedly throughout the series before him from father to 
son ; that all its incumbents had been mortal men, and not 
one of them a god or even a demigod ; and they added for 
his information that at an earlier date there had been 
gods on earth, but that from the time of the first high 
priest downwards history had been the history of mankind 
alone, fully authenticated by documentary evidence. It Is 
difficult to describe the impression, at once astounding and 
convincing, which this priestly rebuke made on the traveller 
from Greece. He must have felt as if the roof of the hall 
in which he stood had been lifted high above his head, and 
had narrowed the dome of heaven. The region of human 
history stretched before him in infinite, and the field of 
divine intervention was diminished in proportion. Gods 
and heroes, he perceived, could not possibly have taken 
part in such events as the Trojan war or the expedition of 
the Argonauts, to which indisputable authority assigned a 
comparatively recent date. Things must have occurred in 
those circumstances much as they occur at present. The 
canons of the possible, the natural, and therefore of the 
credible, had to be applied to the events of an age which 
had formerly been the playground of supernaturalism and 
miracles. Hecatseus rose to the occasion, and applied those 
VOL. I. S 


anons to the myths. He rejected the conventional story 
>f Hercules, who drove the cattle he had stolen from 
jeryon out of the fabulous Erythea, situated presumably 
n the neighbourhood of Spain, to Mycenae in Greece. In 
ais revised version Geryon appeared as the ruler of territories 
in Epirus, in the north-west of Hellas, whose cattle were 
renowned for their beauty and strength. The country 
seemed to deserve the name of Erythea, or the Red Land, 
from the colour of its soil. Similar nominal resemblances, 
and the boundless resources of etymology, played in the 
main a considerable part in Hecatseus' reconstruction of the 
myths. In the same way he applied the historizing method 
and we shall see it repeated in Herodotus to the events 
connected with the Trojan war. Further, our critic displayed 
from his judgment-stool no mercy to a fabulous monster 
such as Cerberus, the three-headed watch-dog of hell. Heca- 
taeus identified it, on grounds that we cannot now verify, with 
a mighty serpent which had once inhabited the Laconian 
promontory of Tsenarum. But, not to multiply these details, 
we have quoted enough to show how the spirit of criticism 
and scepticism effected its first entry in the historical studies 
of the Greeks, and we have illustrated the shapes which 
by an inner necessity it began to assume and to maintain. 
For when Hecataeus, the Milesian historian, makes room 
for his greater successor, we shall see that he too followed 
in the same lines of reform. 

2. That greater successor was Herodotus of Halicar- 
nassus. The date of his birth falls not long before 480 B.C., 
and as the author of the most perfect masterpiece of the 
historical art, which will delight the heart of man till the end 
of all time, Herodotus too was a thinker in his kind. We 
lack the requisite material for comparison in order to fix the 
precise degree of his originality, but it is the more necessary 
to consider his work at some length inasmuch as he does 
not speak to us merely with his own voice, but with the 
voices of several of his contemporaries whose writings have 
not come down to us. And indeed we can conceive no 
more delightful labour than to return again and again to 
the refreshing fountain of his histories. The very beginning 


of his work is full of instructive merits, displaying as it 
does his consummate art of combining or rather of coalescing 
historical with geographical science, and of uniting in a 
uniform perspective of narration the stories of the most 
diverse peoples. He searched for the origin of the ancient 
strife between the Orient and the Occident which reached 
its zenith in the Persian wars, the goal and summit of the 
histories of Herodotus. He went back to the Trojan war, 
and the abduction of Helen that led to it, before he ap- 
proached King Croesus of Lydia, the first conqueror of 
Greek cities in Asia ; and he led up to the tragedy of Troy 
by the narratives akin to it in his conception of the fate of 
lo, Europa, and Medea. The figures and events so familiar 
to us in Greek mythology and legend were transformed by 
the art of Herodotus to new, nay, to modern shapes. 
It was no longer the jealousy of Hera which drove lo to 
wander in distant lands, lo the favourite of Zeus meta- 
morphosed in a cow ; it was no longer the Father of 
Heaven who ravished Europa in the form of a bull ; Medea 
the sorceress, the granddaughter of the Sun-god, disappeared, 
and with her went her share in the capture of the Golden 
Fleece. Colourless princesses replaced the brilliant heroines 
of antiquity, and Phoenician merchants, pirates from Crete, 
and freebooters from Hellas did the work of the supreme god 
and of Jason, the godlike hero. The second abduction was 
represented as the atonement of the first, and the third of the 
second. Heralds and envoys protested against the violation 
of international law, and might only took the office of right 
on the principle of "like for like " when the evildoers refused 
to make restitution. Here once more we observe the 
traces of the semi-historical method formerly practised by 
Hecatasus, but its range had now been enlarged to include 
a causal connection between the so-called authentic events. 
Herodotus appealed to the evidence of Phoenicians and 
Persians, who alleged that the Greeks had intensified the 
existing racial strife. The Greeks, they said, had been the 
first seriously to undertake to avenge the abduction of a 
woman, to build a powerful fleet, to besiege Ilion and 
destroy it for one woman's sake alone. Similar attempts 


were made by the Phoenicians to exculpate themselves. 
They contended that lo had not been carried on the ship 
by force, but rather that her illicit relations with the 
master of the vessel had made her ready to flee from the 
anger of her parents before they discovered the traces of 
her guilt. If we look for the key to this petty historical 
method and to the decline of the greatness of the heroes 
of mythology, we shall find it in the last resort in the 
motive we marked in Hecataeus, in his desire, that is 
to say, to widen the historical horizon and to contract 
the limits of the supernatural. The exalted figures 
of the legends drenched in the colours of poetry were 
degraded by those means to the level of the natural 
and credible till they verily sank to the plane of triviality. 
Herodotus himself was shrewd enough to reserve his 
judgment on the historical value of the accounts he repro- 
duced. But between the lines of his narrative it may 
clearly be read that in his own mind too the credulous 
faith of earlier generations had been damaged and shaken 
by these combinations of foreign scholars or " the learned " 
who maintained a cold and alien attitude towards the 
mythology of Hellas. He betrayed his alienation yet 
more distinctly in his own treatment of the legend of 
Troy. He followed Hecataeus in the statement that during 
the siege of Ilion Helen was residing in Egypt, and not in 
the beleaguered city. Adverse winds had driven Paris to 
Egypt, where the high-minded King Proteus detained the 
wife of Menelaus in order to restore her to her lawful and 
injured lord. We need not concern ourselves here with 
the questions how this belief arose in Egypt itself, how 
its way was made smooth by the poet Stesichorus, nor how 
Herodotus tried to support it by quotations from the Iliad. 
But it was extremely characteristic of the new method of 
thought that Herodotus should have been at pains to 
establish this pseudo-historical version as intrinsically the 
one possible and true account. He argued that the sole 
reason why the Trojans did not put a stop to the long 
miseries of war by the surrender of Helen was that she 
was not in Troy, "for surely Priam could not have been 


so infatuated, nor the others his relatives, as to be willing 
to expose their own persons, their children, and the city 
to danger, in order that Paris might cohabit with Helen." * 
Their refusal might have been conceivable at the begin- 
ning of the siege, but not after the loss of so large a 
number of citizens, and when at least two or three of the 
sons of Priam were numbered among the victims ; there 
was also the consideration that Hector, the heir to the 
throne, was the elder and more capable prince, and not 
Paris, the younger brother. We turn to a second 
example of the semi-historical method. The priestesses 
at Dodona had given the historian the following account 
of the origin of the oracle. A black dove had flown thither 
from Thebes in Egypt, and, speaking with a human voice, 
had ordained from her perch on a tree the foundation of 
an oracular shrine. But "how," so Herodotus objects, in 
almost querulous tones, "could a dove speak with a human 
voice ? " And when the priestesses went on to tell him 
that a second black dove had flown to Libya, where she 
had founded the oracle of Ammon, the historian rushed to 
the conclusion that that legend was an echo of another 
which he had himself heard at Thebes. According to that 
account, two women employed in the temple had been 
carried away by the Phoenicians and sold as slaves, the one 
into Libya, and the other into Greece, where they had re- 
spectively established those two famous shrines. This plump 
invention, due to the arrogance of the Egyptians, aroused In. 
Herodotus a transient emotion of scepticism which found 
vent in the question " how they knew this for a certainty/' 
but he presently accepted it as a fact, for the consentaneity 
of the whole thing was so complete. The inhabitants of 
Dodona had regarded the strange woman as a bird, because 
her barbarous language had reminded them rather of the 
chattering of birds than of human speech. Further, in 
saying that the dove was black they showed that she had the 
dark skin of an Egyptian. After a time she acquired the 
language of the country, and this was the meaning of the 
report that the dove had spoken after the fashion of men. 
* Herod., ii. 120 : trans. Gary. 


Finally, news reached her of the fate of her sister who had 
been taken to Libya, and she disseminated it in Dodona. 
We smile at this strange medley of childish simplicity and 
subtle sophistication, but the smile dies on our lips, and we 
cease to be annoyed at the unlovely transformation of the 
naive popular mythology when we reflect on the significant 
part played in the intellectual progress of mankind by the 
historizing process of interpretation. The poesy of legend 
had claimed the dignity of reality, and it was hardly 
surprising that the reality in turn should have broken the 
bounds of poesy. In the existing state of the methods of 
research, it was not even approximately possible strictly to 
distinguish the frontier-line. Nay, the ancient territorial 
dispute is not yet completely settled to this day. If the 
" Father of History " was inclined to admit the historical 
claim of every legendary tradition which might possibly 
have its origin in historical truth, it is the opposite tendency 
which has obtained the upper hand at the present time. 

3. We have seen that this transformation of the myths 
was due to two causes. There was first the extension of 
the horizon of space and time, and secondly the exchange 
of thought with critics of native traditions whose foreign 
nationality excluded them from sympathy with Greek 
mythology. But we have still to mention a third factor, 
which was perhaps the most efficacious of all. It was to be 
found in the painful conflict between the ancient faith and 
the new science, which were seeking reconciliation, The 
increased store of empirical knowledge, and the growing 
mastery of nature by man, had visibly strengthened the 
belief in the stability of the phenomenal universe. Thus 
the problem was to avoid as far as possible a sudden and 
irreparable breach with the hallowed traditions of antiquity. 
The historizing interpretation of the myths sacrificed a part 
in order to save the rest. It was one of those half-measures 
or compromises which are due to promptings of instinct, and 
which, despite unintelligent ridicule, are really of the highest 
value. They may be compared to the " fictions " of the 
law which formed at a certain stage of human development 
the foundation of all true and enduring progress. Another 


instance of these beneficent compromises related to the 
activity of the gods themselves. Herodotus tells us that 
the Thessalians explained the deep gulf that formed the 
river-bed of the Peneius as the work of Poseidon : 

" and their story is probable," he adds ; " for whoever thinks that 
Neptune shakes the earth, and that rents occasioned by earthquakes 
are the works of this god, on seeing this would say that Neptune 
formed it. For it appears evident to me that the separation of 
these mountains is the effect of an earthquake." * 

The conclusion suggests itself that Herodotus entirely and 
deliberately rejected the intervention of supernatural agents ; 
that he regarded every god merely as the president of a 
department of nature or life regulated by fixed forces. 
Such a conclusion, however, would be in the highest degree 
unjust to the double thread of positive science and tradi- 
tional religion which traversed the mind of the historian of 
Halicarnassus with equal force and strength. He had 
noted the changes on the surface of the earth, and had 
paid them the compliment of systematic reflection ; he 
had reduced the single phenomena back to general 
causes, and might therefore presume to dispense in that 
connection with the theory of direct divine interposition. 
To that extent at least he was a pupil of Anaxi- 
mander or Xenophanes, his predecessors, and of Xanthus, 
the historian of Lydia, whose work was composed in 
Greek ; and he was no less the pupil, without injury to 
himself on this occasion, of his Egyptian masters. By 
their example he was enabled to explain the origin of the 
Nile delta in a manner as rational as it was correct, 
and we hardly know whether to be more surprised at the 
keenness of his natural observation or at the confidence 
with which he dealt with immense periods of time ; he 
estimated the present age of the earth at no less than 
twenty thousand years. Other instances might be quoted 
in which Herodotus expressed his doubt as to the direct 
intervention of the gods. The Persian magi had charmed 
a severe storm by sacrifices and incantations, but Herodotus, 
* Herod., vii. 129 : trans. Gary. 


In reporting this account, added the sceptical remark, "or 
perhaps it abated of its own accord." Moreover, he refused 
to decide the question whether this storm, which had been 
so destructive to the Persian fleet, had or had not been 
caused by the prayers of the Athenians to Boreas and 
the sacrifices they had likewise offered. His doubts may 
have been aroused by the proximity of similar appeals 
uttered by Greeks and Barbarians ; but in instances where 
such a corrective was wanting, or where the passion of the 
circumstances thrust his sober doubts in the rear, our 
historian surpassed himself in his narratives of miraculous 
divine apparitions, of heaven-sent dreams which he con- 
trasted with those due to natural causes, of significant 
presages, and of the wonders of the soothsayers' art. In 
this respect there is a striking difference between various 
parts of his work, and some short-sighted critics have 
hastened to the conclusion that the several books were 
composed at long intervals of time corresponding to changes 
in Herodotus' speculative views. But hypotheses of this 
kind are at once uncalled-for by the circumstances, and 
without any secure foundation. They would, further, be 
quite inadequate to expunge the elements of contradiction 
from the historian's theology. His conception of the*affairs 
of the gods is essentially vacillating and parti-coloured. 
He might be claimed as an opponent, not merely of 
anthropomorphism, but of polytheism itself, when we recall 
his eager endeavours to trace back no few of the Greek 
divinities and ceremonials to Egyptian prototypes and influ- 
ences, and when we read his audacious declaration that 

Hesiod and Homer lived four hundred years before my timej and 
not more ; and these were they who framed a theogony for the 
Greeks, and gave names to the gods and assigned to them honours 
and arts, and declared their several forms." * 

In this connection it Is to be noted that he expressly 

contrasted the nature-worship of the Persians with the 

anthropomorphism of the Greeks, relating, not without a 

trace of inner agreement, that they offered sacrifices to the 

* Herod., ii. 53 : trans. Gary. 


great forces of nature, sun, moon, earth, fire, water, and 
winds, and conceived Zeus as merely the " complete firma- 
ment" It can, indeed, hardly be disputed that Hero- 
dotus was liable to similar fits of scepticism through the 
influence, perhaps, of Xenophanes and other philosophers. 
But the doubts had not taken root in his soul. We could 
prove this in many ways, but we may refer especially to 
the anxious humility with which he concluded a scathing 
criticism of a Greek heroic legend with an appeal for the 
forgiveness of the gods and heroes whom he might have 
offended. It is in the same passage, too, that he reserved 
the epithet of " the truest " for the Greek doctrine of a 
double Hercules, one more ancient and veritably divine, 
the other of later date and merely a hero or deified mortal, 
distinct from each other and worshipped at separate 
shrines. The doctrine, we may add in parenthesis, affords us 
the earliest example of an artifice of criticism, more popular 
in later times, by which the contradictions in legendary 
traditions were obviated. The outcome of the scepticism 
of Herodotus was probably chiefly his conviction that 
human knowledge at the best is but a poor standard by 
which to measure divine things, and that, looking at 
these through the descriptions of the poets, we see them 
through a glass darkly. The reservation made by Herodotus 
on one particular occasion " if we may otherwise trust the 
epic poets " has a deep and wide-reaching significance, 
and there is a bitter earnest in his complaint that " all 
men know equally much," that is, equally little, " about the 

We can well understand how some critics have mistaken 
Herodotus for a monotheist in disguise. The description 
is erroneous, but it is none the less surprising that in 
places where he discusses questions of religion from an 
independent point of view he does not speak of Apollo or 
Athene, or of Hermes, or of Aphrodite, but almost ex- 
clusively of "the god" and of "the divine." Still, our 
astonishment is diminished when we remark that in all 
those passages the reference is to general laws regulating 
the course of nature and of human life. Homer speaks 


In such cases of " the gods " and " Zeus " almost without 
discrimination, and even in immediate proximity. In the 
magnificent verses, for instance, in which the frailty of the 
human lot is incomparably brought before our eyes, we 

" Lo, he thinks that he shall never suffer evil in time to come, 
while the gods give him happiness, and his limbs move lightly. 
But when, again, the blessed gods have wrought for him sorrow, 
even so he bears it, as he must, with a steadfast heart, for the 
spirit of men upon the earth is even as their day, that comes upon 
them from the father of gods and men." * 

And everywhere, in brief, where the point to be 
emphasized is not the separate endeavours of the gods, 
but the common action resulting from their uniform will, 
they tend to be regarded either as executing the decree 
of the highest god or as the vehicles of a uniform principle 
shared by all alike. This at least was the view of Herodotus, 
and it would be illegitimate on that account to attribute 
to him a negative attitude towards the individual deities, 
uncertain though his knowledge about them may have 
been, and serious though his objections undoubtedly were 
to the coarser forms of anthropomorphism. There are 
three distinct points at which his method of thought 
may be contrasted with that of Homer. In the first 
instance, long and earnest reflection on the order of nature 
and on the lot of mankind united with the increased 
comprehension, to which we have so often referred, of 
the uniformity of the universe, to give more frequent 
occasion for the discussion of the general laws that 
govern it. Secondly, the diminished confidence in the 
literal truth of the myths robbed the figure of the 
supreme god of many a human trait which had 
formerly attached to him. And, finally, the philoso- 
phers who had long since discovered the source of 
all existence in an impersonal principle superior to the 
separate deities had not failed to leave traces of their 

* " Odyssey," xviii. 139 : trans. Butcher and Lang. 


influence. That ruler of the universe was supreme over 
the destiny of mankind and over the will of the gods, 
but he possessed at present no strictly personal character, 
or rather a character deficient in individual marks. He 
could accordingly be termed, without too great a sacrifice 
of consistency, "the god" or "divine" indifferently. We 
reach now another instance of the self-contradiction of 
Herodotus, and one which may be termed the most 
important of all. It is connected with this primary 
Principle itself, which vacillated so indecisively between 
the personal and the impersonal. Sometimes we see it 
as a tender and intrinsically benevolent being, sometimes 
as mischievous and intrinsically malevolent ; nor have any 
attempts succeeded in explaining away or even in reduc- 
ing the differences. t " Divine Providence, in its wisdom," 
is represented as having bestowed a rich gift of fertility 
on weak and timorous animals, while restraining the 
reproductive powers of strong and noxious animals. 
Thus far, then, the Divinity was concerned for the 
preservation and the prosperity of creation. Frequently, 
too, it fostered the acts and happiness of mankind by 
favourable decrees and dispensations ; but there were 
occasions, on the other hand, when it took delight in over- 
throwing "all the proud" and "mutilating all the pre- 
eminent" just as the "lightning discharges itself on high 
buildings and trees." In a speech, then, that Herodotus 
put in the mouth of the wise Solon, he said that the 
divinity was "always jealous and delights in confusion." 
And the supreme deity who is here identified with the idea 
of destiny is conceived as dispensing at once, not merely 
the tenderness of a father, the envy of a jealous god, but 
likewise the justice of a bitter avenger of the guilt of 
mankind. These contradictory features were not wholly 
unknown to ancient mythology, but men's reflections on 
the idea of purpose in the world had been extended 
by this time; their pessimism had increased, and their 
ethical consciousness had been deepened by sudden 
changes of fortune and great historical revolutions ; 
and thus the differences in the self-contradictory theories 


of earthly phenomena had been intensified. Nor are we 
concerned with a mere distinction of degree. The conflict 
of tendencies and intentions, in passing from a variety 
of separate beings into the keeping of one supreme 
god, had passed into another and more glaring condition 
of discord* 

With regard to the judicial office of the godhead alluded 
to above, we are struck by a very remarkable distinction. 
At one time it is represented as a part of what might almost 
be called the automatic order of things ; at another time 
the divine judge appears as a purposeful power artfully 
selecting the means for the accomplishment of his ends, 
deriding all human intentions, and compelling them to 
serve his own purpose. Take, for instance, the story of 
the heralds sent by Darius to the cities of Greece in order 
to demand their submission. In Athens, as well as in 
Sparta, the time-honoured requirements of international 
law had been set at nought by the execution of those 
envoys. " What calamity befell the Athenians," as a retri- 
bution of this misdeed, says Herodotus, "I cannot say, 
except that their territory and city were ravaged. But I 
do not think," he adds, " that happened in consequence of 
that crime." On the Spartans, however, his story con- 
tinues, there alighted the anger of the semi-divine ancestor 
of the Spartan heralds' guild of the Talthybiadse. He 
was incensed against his countiymen on account of the 
murder of the Persian heralds. For years the sacrifices 
to the gods were accompanied by unfavourable omens; 
then two of the noblest sons of the Lacedaemonians, 
Bulis and Sperthies, resolved to free their native city 
from its pollution by going as a free-will offering to Susa 
and surrendering to the successor of Darius. The Persian 
monarch did not accept the sacrifice, but the mere offer 
sufficed temporarily to abate the wrath of Talthybius. 
After a long interval, however, in the first years of the 
Peloponnesian war, his anger was again aroused, and the 
sons of Bulis and Sperthies, who had been sent as 
ambassadors to Asia, were captured by a Thracian king, 
and, being carried to Attica, were put to death by the 


Athenians. That event was regarded by Herodotus as 
a signal instance of the direct intervention of the deity. 

"For that the wrath of Talthybius," he writes, "alighted on mes- 
sengers, and did not cease until it was satisfied, this was but right 
(and natural) ; but that it should fall on the sons of the men who 
went up to the king on account of that wrath . . . this does seem 
to me to be plainly the doing of the godhead." * 

In other words, Herodotus recognized that the hand of 
deity had interposed. 

4. Apart from deviations due to his religious sensi- 
bility, the judgment of Herodotus displays in other 
places too a remarkable vacillation between the critical 
and the uncritical methods. Antiquity ridiculed his 
credulity and blamed him as a mere "story-teller," but 
for our own part we are hardly less surprised at his 
occasional display of hypercriticism. He is frequently 
credulous where he should be sceptical, but, on the 
contrary, he is frequently sceptical where belief would be 
better in place. He had only heard a vague account, for 
example, of the long polar nights ; but, instead of availing 
himself of the means at his disposal and applying the 
method of concomitant variation to the legendary tale 
the higher the latitude the longer the night he preferred 
to commit it to the limbo of fable by his emphatic 
declaration that " men are found who sleep six months 
at a time, but this I do not at all admit." t Similarly, he 
was quite well aware that the Greeks depended on the 
north of Europe for their tin no less than for their amber ; 
he refused, however, to permit them to locate the home of 
that metal in the group of islands of Great Britain, which 
the Greeks entitled the "Isles of Tin" precisely on 
account of that important product. The reason he alleges is 
that no trouble on his part had availed to discover an 
authority who could vouch for the existence of the sea as 
the boundary of Northern Europe by the evidence of his 
own eyes. Again, he was acquainted with the tendency of 

* Herod., vii. 137 : trans, author. 
j- Herod., iv. 25 : trans. Gary. 


the human mind to expect in the products of nature rather 
more than a common degree of regularity and symmetry, 
and accordingly he was not unjustly disposed to ridicule 
his predecessors who had drawn their map of the earth with 
Europe and Asia as continents of an equal circumference. 
But he went on to "smile" at the further description of 
the geographers the reference is to Hecatseus in especial 

w ho represented the earth as " made circular as if by a 

lathe." * It is abundantly clear that Herodotus was not 
prepared to accept the doctrine published by Parmenides 
of the globular shape of the earth. But in this connection 
the most remarkable fact is that Herodotus himself fell a 
victim on one occasion to the same misleading tendency. 
Even where his predecessors had happened on the right 
path, he suspected them of adopting fictitious proofs of 
regularity, and this was precisely his own method in Sie 
parallelism which he affected to discover between the streams 
of the Nile and the Danube as the two greatest rivers 
of his acquaintance. It was at all times an extremely 
difficult task to pronounce with any degree of certainty on 
the limits of possible variations in the organic world. 
We could, therefore, forgive Herodotus for not rejecting as 
incredible in itself the existence of winged serpents in 
Arabia, but we cannot avoid an expression of surprise 
that the alleged gigantic gold-digging ants of the Indian 
desert, which were "larger than foxes, but smaller than dogs," 
should not have been dismissed as fabulous ; for this at 
least was the fate of the one-eyed Arimaspians, of whom 
our historian explicitly declared, " neither do I believe this 
that men are born with one eye, and yet in other respects 
resemble the rest of mankind."$f 

We shall conclude this discussion by accompanying 
Herodotus to the extreme point which he reached in his 
advance of scientific thought. Among all the various 
attempts to explain the flood of the Nile there was none 
which he treated with such contemptuous disdain as 
the attempt to connect that enigmatic phenomenon, in a 

* Herod., iv. 36 : trans. Gary. 
t Herod., iii. 116; trans. Gary. 


manner difficult for us to follow, with the stream of Ocean 
that flowed round the earth. Herodotus indicted this 
mode of explanation as the second of two ways which 
were "scarcely worth mentioning;" he wrote of it that 
"it shows still less judgment than the first, but, if I 
may say so, is more marvellous," and he went on to 
say in regard to this phenomenon, that "the person 
who speaks about the Ocean, since he has transported 
the question to the domain of the inscrutable, does not 
admit of refutation." But it must not, therefore, be supposed 
that he reserved his judgment in this instance, or that he 
held the question of the correctness of the theory to be 
intrinsically insoluble. The precise contrary was the case. 
The undisguised contempt of the passage we have quoted 
above is supported by the ridicule of the words that imme- 
diately follow : " for I do not know any river called the 
Ocean, but suppose that Homer or some other ancient poet, 
having invented the name, introduced it into poetry." His 
meaning practically amounts to this: A supposition so 
entirely remote from the region of fact and sense-perception 
as not even to provide a handle for refutation, is ipso facto 
convicted. In other words, an hypothesis with claims on 
our respect, and therefore on our discussion, must in the 
last resort be capable of verification. Herodotus stood for 
the nonce on purely positive, not to say positivist, ground. 
He recognized a gulf that could not be filled up between 
the inquirer in search of scientific facts and the poet 
creating amiable fictions. For once, though doubtless for 
once only, Herodotus is revealed in a brilliant flashlight as 
a modern of the moderns. Inspired by the heat of conflict, 
and moved by a passionate desire to outstrip his prede- 
cessors and rivals, a fundamental truth of methodology, 
namely, that those hypotheses only are legitimate which 
can be wholly or partly verified, became as clear to him 
as noonday, and he would doubtless have been the first to 
take alarm at his own boldness if he had perceived the 
full meaning of his thought. But there was no such risk. 
Batteux's shrewd maxim applies here as elsewhere : that 
" the ancients must never be credited with the consequences 


of their principles or with the principles of their conse 
quences "least of all, we may add, ancients like Hero 
dotus and Hecataeus, whose activity fell in the midst of ; 
great period of transition. Of that period we have nov 
to take leave, though we may have occasion to return to i 
in detached references in the future. 


" Ce furent les Grecs qui . . , fonderent . . la science rationelle 
de'pouillee de mystre et de majie, telle que nous la pratiquons 

"Vielleicht wird die atomistische Hypothese einmal durch eine 
andere verdrangt ; vielleicht, aber nicht wahrscheinlich. 1 ' LUDWIG 


"rttv fjLtv fiiov 

5c KO\WS ffiv I? TC^yTJ." 




i. MORE than one title to fame is the inheritance of Greece. 
The men of genius to whom she gave birth dreamed the 
brightest speculative dreams. To them it was given to 
create incomparable works in likeness and in speech, but 
there was one creation of the Greek intellect which was 
not merely incomparable the positive or rational science 
of Greece was no less than unique. 

We boast of our extensive dominion over nature, and 
of our insight into nature, on which that dominion depends. 
Our eye sees deeper every day not indeed into the essence 
of things, but into the sequences of phenomena. The adepts 
of the mental sciences, following in the footsteps of natural 
research, have begun to recognize the causal laws that govern 
even human affairs. They have slowly but surely trans- 
figured tradition, till we see them building a rational system 
of the order of life corresponding to the relation of means to 
ends. In all these triumphs of the intellect our humble 
acknowledgment is due to the founders of science in Greece. 
The threads that bind antiquity with modern times lie open 
to view, and our present inquiry will have to take them in. 
account. Inevitably we ask, On what did It rest this 
prerogative of the Greek intellect ? We may confidently 
reply that it was no peculiar privilege vouchsafed to the 
inhabitants of Hellas and denied to all other nations. 
Scientific thought is no magician's wand, efficacious in the 
hands of Greeks alone to conjure the gold of wisdom out 
of the mine of facts. Other peoples too might advance a 
VOL. I. T -2 


just claim for genuine contributions to science. The 
chronology of the Egyptians, and the phonetics of the old 
Indian grammarians, need not fear comparison with the 
products of the Hellenic mind. To explain the supremacy 
of the last-named, we may recall a saying of Herodotus, 
who ascribed the good luck of Hellas to the fact that she 
" enjoys by far the best-tempered climate.' 1 * Here, as 
elsewhere, the secret of success lay in the combination and 
inter-communion of opposites. We can trace the springs 
of Greek success achieved and maintained by the great 
men of Hellas on the field of scientific inquiry to a remark- 
able conjunction of natural gifts and conditions. There 
was the teeming wealth of constructive imagination united 
with the sleepless critical spirit which shrank from no test of 
audacity ; there was the most powerful impulse to generali- 
zation coupled with the sharpest faculty for descrying and 
distinguishing the finest shades of phenomenal peculiarity ; 
there was the religion of Hellas, which afforded complete 
satisfaction to the requirements of sentiment, and yet left 
the intelligence free to perform its destructive work ; there 
were the political conditions of a number of rival centres of 
intellect, of a friction of forces, excluding the possibility of 
stagnation, and, finally, of an order of state and society 
strict enough to curb the excesses of " children crying for 
the moon," and elastic enough not to hamper the soaring 
flight of superior minds. At the point of development to 
which we have now attained it was chiefly the critical 
faculty which advanced with great strides, and which stood 
in need of ever-new reinforcement. We have already made 
acquaintance with two of the sources from which the spirit 
of criticism derived its nourishment the metaphysical and 
dialectical discussions practised by the Eleatic philosophers, 
and the semi-historical method which was applied to the 
myths by Hecatseus and Herodotus. A third source is to 
be traced to the schools of the physicians. These aimed 
at eliminating the arbitrary element from the view and 
knowledge of nature, the beginnings of which were bound 
up with it in a greater or less degree, though practically 
* Herod., iii. 106 : trans. Gary. 


without exception and by the force of an inner necessity. 
A knowledge of medicine was destined to correct that 
defect, and we shall mark the growth of its most precious 
fruits in the increased power of observation and the 
counterpoise it offered to hasty generalizations, as well as 
in the confidence which learnt to reject untenable fictions, 
whether produced by luxuriant imagination or by a priori 
speculations, on the similar ground of self-reliant sense- 
perception. But before we turn to the consideration of 
medicine and to its influence on the thought of the age, 
we must first acquaint ourselves with the authors and 
representatives of that branch of human knowledge, and 
take its rudiments in account. 

"One man practised in medicine verily outweigheth 
many other men " this compliment greets the medical pro- 
fession at the rise of Greek literature, and posterity would not 
recall it The art of healing in its earliest stages, springing 
as it does from crude superstitions and hardly less crude 
and frequently misinterpreted experience, is a wilderness of 
magical customs and of practices partly efficacious, though 
dependent on unanalyzed observation, and partly thoroughly 
nonsensical. The medicine-man among savage tribes is 
more than half a conjuror and less than half a custodian of 
old guild-secrets reposing on genuine or apparent experience. 
The science of healing among the original Indo-Europeans 
had scarcely advanced beyond this stage. A monument 
of it still survives in a formula of blessing, of which the 
Germanic and Indian versions are so precisely in agree- 
ment that their identical origin is beyond dispute. There 
is a fascinating picture, too, of the earliest practice of 
medicine in India in the extant "Song of a Physician." 
We see him making his jovial journey through the land 
with his fig-wood chest of drugs, and wishing for the sick 
recovery and for himself a rich reward, seeing that he 
lacks "cob, cow, and coat." His "herbs overthrow every- 
thing that afflicteth the body," and " disease flyeth before 
them as before the bailiff's grasp." But he does not 
merely claim to be an " expeller of sickness," but a " slayer 
of demons " too ; for in India, as elsewhere, all illness was 


looked on partly as a heaven-sent punishment, partly as 
the work of hostile demons, and partly, too, as the con- 
sequence of human imprecation and black arts. The wrath 
of the offended deity might be appeased by prayer and 
sacrifice ; the mischievous spirit might be mollified by soft 
speeches or exorcised by spells ; and, similarly, the noxious 
effects might be averted by counter-charms, and where 
possible they would be made to recoil on their author 
Besides the formulae of spells, amulets, and symbolic 
acts, herbs and salves had also their uses, and it might 
happen that one and the same means of healing would 
be applied to quite different cases. In the Indian art of 
medicine, as revealed to us principally in the Atharva- 
Veda, and in that of all other primitive peoples, the fore- 
going remarks hold good. Nor will they be found less 
applicable to the popular medical notions of the Middle 
Ages and of modern or even of recent times-. The fact 
that the selection of the means of healing was determined 
as much, if not more, by the force of the association of 
ideas as by specific experience, left ample room for the play 
of the element of fancy. In this way the plant eye-bright 
was prescribed as a cure for diseases of the eye, because a 
black speck which is contained in the flower suggested the 
idea of the pupil. Similarly, the red colour of the blood- 
stone, or haematite, formed its pretended qualification to 
stop a haemorrhage. An Egyptian belief maintained that 
the blood of black animals could prevent the whitening of 
the hair, and modern Styria reproduces the ancient Indian 
doctrine that jaundice may be expelled into yellow birds. 
As was only natural, the art of surgery through all its 
stages was the least affected by any kind of superstition, 
and we are positively astonished at its high degree of 
cultivation among the nations of antiquity, and even in 
prehistoric times, as well as among the savages of to-day. 
They did not even shrink from operations of so bold a 
character as trepanning or the Caesarian section. 

Turning now to the earliest evidences of Greek civiliza- 
tion, it is a somewhat striking fact that there is no 
mention in the Iliad of medical incantations. Weapons 


are drawn out of the bodies of wounded heroes, the flowing 
blood is staunched, and the wounds are smeared with 
ointments ; exhausted warriors are restored with wine, pure 
or mixed, but there is not a single word about any kind of 
superstitious customs or spells. It is a fact which perplexed 
the ancient commentators on Homer, and it agrees with 
other indications which point to the dawn of an era of 
enlightenment. When we come to Hesiod and the later 
literature in general, in which incantations and amulets and 
beneficial dreams play an important part, we see that such 
enlightenment was confined to the circle of nobles. Even 
in the Odyssey, which describes the beginnings of civic 
life, and the hero of which was rather the ideal of enter- 
prising merchants and intrepid seamen than of noble 
warriors, there is at least one passage the episode of 
the boar-hunt on Parnassus in which the incantation or 
epode is used as a means for the curative treatment of a 
wound. And in the same younger Epic poem we hear for 
the first time of professional medical practitioners, who, 
like the physician in the Rig- Veda, take their way through 
the land, and are summoned into men's homes like the 
carpenter, the minstrel, or the soothsayer, in order to sell 
their services to those who have a use for them. 

2. The physician's profession was amply recognized in 
Hellas at an early date- Its oldest and most famous seats 
were the lovely island of Cos and the neighbouring 
peninsula of Cnidus, in the southern portion of the west 
coast of Asia Minor, Croton, in the toe of Italy, and 
Cyrene, far away in Africa, where grew the umbelliferous 
plant Silphion, so highly valued on account of its medicinal 
virtues that it formed a royal monopoly. Cities and princes 
competed with one another for the services of eminent 
physicians. Democedes of Croton, for instance, was 
retained one year by the city of Athens, and in the next 
year by the commonwealth of ./Egina, and the third year 
by the tyrant of Samos. His annual salary reached a sum 
of which the mere quotation of the figures 8,200, 10,000, 
and 16,400 drachmae, or francs is hardly an adequate 
expression in view of the greatly diminished purchasing- 


power of money. After the fall of Polycrates, Democedes 
was taken as a captive from Samos to Susa, where we 
presently meet him at the royal table and as confiden- 
tial adviser to King Darius (521-485 B.C.). Indeed, so 
admirably had he treated the king and his consort Atossa 
that the Egyptian body-physicians who had hitherto 
enjoyed the royal favour fell swiftly in disgrace, and were 
in actual danger of their lives. Again, about the middle 
of the fifth century, we find the Cypriot physician Onasilus 
and his brothers, who had rendered medical service in the 
field during the siege of Edalion by the Persians, enjoying 
the highest honours and equipped in a princely style with 
ample crown property. It is to be noted in this connection 
that the esteem in which physicians were held corresponded 
to the moral demands that were made on them. A guild, 
the members of which were rewarded so richly and 
honoured so highly, was not likely to lack its charlatans 
and ignorant swindlers. But the conscience of the pro- 
fession which was composed for the most part of honour- 
able and capable physicians, suppressed, if it did not expel, 
those parasites on the noble tree. 

At this point we have to mention a document of which 
the antiquity is not its sole claim to veneration. " The 
Physician's Oath " is a monument of the highest rank in 
the history of civilization, and it is full of interest for the 
study of the internal constitution of the guild as well as 
for that of the ethical standard to which physicians were 
required to conform. We can trace therein the transition 
from a close professional caste to the free and general exer- 
cise of an art. The apprentice'promised to honour his master 
as his parents, to assist him in all his necessities, and to 
impart gratuitous instruction to his offspring should they 
choose the same vocation, but to no one else save only to 
his own sons and to pupils bound by contract and by oath. 
He swore that he would help the sick "according to his 
knowledge and power ; " that he would rigidly abstain from 
every evil and criminal abuse of the means and instruments 
of his art ; that he would not give poison even to those 
who asked for it ; that he would supply no woman with 


means to procure abortion ; that he would not perform 
castration the abomination of Greek sentiment even 
where it appeared to be medically advisable ; and, finally, 
he bound himself to avoid every abuse, erotic or otherwise, 
of his position towards his patients of both sexes, whether 
free or slaves, and to keep an inviolable silence about all 
the secrets which he learnt in the exercise of his calling 
or even outside of it. This oath brings the memorable 
document to a close, with repeated solemn adjurations to 
the gods, and it adds considerably to the significance of 
the record that, in the complete absence of State control, 
it formed the one public set of regulations for the practice 
of the art of medicine. It is supplemented by numerous 
passages in the medical writings of those times, in which 
the same pungent satire is directed at the arrogance of 
ignorance as at the humbug of quackery. Physicians who 
are such " in name, but not in fact " are compared with 
the " mute persons " or supernumeraries of the stage. The 
courage of wisdom is contrasted with the foolhardiness 
of ignorance. Touting for fees is deprecated, and a con- 
ference with other physicians in cases of doubt or hesita- 
tion is urgently enjoined. We quote here a fine remark : 
" Where there is love of humanity there will be love of the 
profession." If two or more ways of medical treatment 
were possible, the physician was recommended to choose 
the least imposing or sensational ; it was an act of " deceit " 
to dazzle the patient's eye by brilliant exhibitions of skill 
which might very well be dispensed with. The practice 
of holding public lectures in order to increase his reputa- 
tion was discouraged in the physician, and he was especially 
warned against lectures tricked out with quotations from 
the poets. Physicians who pretended to infallibility In 
detecting even the minutest departure from their prescrip- 
tions were laughed at ; and, finally, there were precise bye- 
laws to regulate the personal behaviour of the physician. 
He was enjoined to observe the most scrupulous cleanliness, 
and was advised to cultivate an elegance removed from all 
signs of luxury, even down to the detail that he might use 
perfumes, but not in an immoderate degree. 

3. \Ve have entered imperceptibly that region of litera- 
ture in which "the father of medicine" reigns supreme. 
Hippocrates the Great, as Aristotle is the first to entitle 
him, was born in 4jD B.C in the island of Cos, and was 
recognized by all antiquity as the type of the perfect 
physician and author of medical treatises. His fame 
eclipsed that of all his professional brethren, and a large 
collection of writings have been ascribed to his pen which 
bear unmistakable traces of a diversity of authorship and 
sometimes of a feud of schools. The ancients were fully 
aware of this fact, though the attempts of their scholars 
to adjudicate the authorship were hardly more successful 
than those of modern or recent critics. This problem is 
one of the most delicate in the history of literature, and 
we shall not attempt to arrive at a solution in this place. 
The names of the authors of the books must remain hidden 
from us, and the same is true in most cases of the dates 
of their composition. We must be content with expressing 
the conviction that no portion of the so-called corpus Hippo- 
craticum^ with a few inconsiderable exceptions, is later 
than the close of the fifth century B.C. Those treatises, 
accordingly, may be accepted as affording ample testimony 
for the intellectual movement of the age that we are now 
considering. An irrefutable proof of the correctness of this 
view is contained in the special subject with which we are 
immediately concerned, for the names of two philosophers 
only Melissus * and Empedocles are contained in this 
multifarious mass of literature. Other thinkers whose 
influence may be traced in it are Xenophanes, Parme- 
nides, Heraclitus, Alcmseon, Anaxagoras, and Diogenes of 
Apollonia, whose acquaintance we have not yet made. 
But the treatises contain not the faintest indication what- 
ever to lead us outside of the chronological limit we have 
set to them. This in itself is evidence of the existence of 
that limit, for it would surely be astounding if, in an age 
of the most rapid intellectual development and of the most 
facile circulation of ideas, the authors of medical works had 
in their pros, and cons confined themselves exclusively to 
* Cp, BL IL Ch.. II. init. 


systems which were either already antiquated or were swiftly 
becoming so. Nor does the spectacle of a few belated 
stragglers, if in reality there were any, affect the certainty 
of our view of the reciprocal influence of medical and 
philosophical thought. 

Those mutual relations existed, though they have often 
been sought in the wrong place and at an insufficient depth 
below the surface. We find external points of resemblance, 
for instance, such as the Hippocratic parallel to the four 
elements of Empedocles in his view of the quadruple 
nature of the humours of the body blood, phlegm, yellow 
and black bile determining health and disease. Or we 
find mere verbal analogies, which do not always point 
to the fact of a loan, nor even, when the language 
has been borrowed, to the borrowing of the doctrines as 
well. We must look deeper for the features of genuine 
resemblance in the spirit and method of the two sciences. 
Another glance backward will assist us in this search. 
Doubtless there had been a time when the treasury of a 
Greek practitioner, like that of his brother in Egypt, had 
contained little else than magical spells and prescriptions. 
The elimination of the superstitious elements from thera- 
peutics went hand-in-hand with the release of the nations 
of antiquity from their general burden of primitive super- 
stition. In some orders of society it occurred at a remarkably 
early period, in others comparatively late, but it was never 
complete. The system of popular medicine in which the 
chief part was played by amulets and charms was never 
completely expelled. But the lapse of time may be recog- 
nized by one very distinct mark. As superstition grew 
old it preferred to cover its nakedness with more and more 
meretricious finery ; it glittered with foreign authorities, 
such as the physicians of Thrace, the Getic and Hyper- 
borean miracle-mongers Zalmoxis and Abaris, and the 
magicians of Persia, till the overflowing stream of Chaldean 
and Egyptian pseudo-science swept up these rags and tags 
of superstition and bore them down on its flood. More- 
over, the healing arts of the priests always asserted their 
place by the side of worldly or lay therapeutics. We 


need but mention In this connection the cure by sleeping 
in a temple, and the beneficial dreams which commonly 
occurred in the sanctuaries of Asclepius. Though advanced 
thinkers poured their contempt* on these superstitious 
practices sanctioned by the national religion, yet they 
were held in undiminished respect by wide classes of the 
populace, and their efficacy was occasionally proclaimed in 
the ravings of learned but foolish men, such as Aristides, 
the rhetorician of Imperial Rome. By these means they 
survived the era of Paganism. Indeed, the seats in which 
they were located owed a part of the virtual permanence 
of their attraction to their combination with rational 
methods of treatment, and another part to their salubrious 
situation and surroundings. Epidaurus, for example, the 
most famous of these priestly health resorts, was situated 
in hilly country in the heart of beautiful pine-woods at no 
great distance from the sea. It was sheltered on the north 
by a range of mountains, and with its precious springs of 
water it fulfilled all the requirements of a modern sana- 
torial establishment. Nor was the public at that watering- 
place deprived of the means of recreation and enjoyment. 
It possessed a racecourse and a theatre, the stately ruins 
of which we are still able to admire. It was contended in 
antiquity that lay medicine derived considerable benefit 
from the comments on the treatment and course of diseases 
made by the priestly physicians. We find it difficult, how- 
ever, to place credence in that statement We have lately 
come in possession of a long series of such notes discovered 
in Epidaurus itself, and we are bound to confess that they 
would be adapted to any other purpose better than to that 
of the study of medicine. It would not be inappropriate, 
for instance, to find them a home in the fables of the 
"Arabian Nights," Among other tales which we owe to 
the inscriptions on those stones, there Is a story of a broken 
goblet which was made whole again without human inter- 
vention ; and another of a head severed from its trunk, 
which the inferior demons who had cut it off were unable to 
replace till Asclepius had hastened in person to accomplish 
* Cp. Aristophanes, " Plutus." 


the miracle. In these accounts of the priestly cures, 
as in other annals of wonder-working, the dietetic and 
therapeutic factors, which had been genuinely efficacious, 
were either overlooked by the scribes or were purposely 
omitted. Progress was made in the lay art of medicine 
because the material for observation was constantly 
accumulating, and successive generations benefited by 
their dower of centuries of experience, and because the 
physicians of Greece shared with her poets and sculptors 
the same splendid faculties of keen sight and of faithful 
reproduction of the thing seen. Still, all this accumulation 
and sifting of the raw material sufficed to provide little 
more than a foundation-stone for a scientific system of 
medicine. The complete structure was yet in the dim 
perspective. Other preliminaries, other powerful incentives, 
were required for its realization, and these may be claimed 
as the contribution of that impulse towards generalization 
which grew and flourished more than elsewhere in the 
Greek schools of philosophy. 

We need hardly remind our readers of Alcmseon, the 
philosopher-physician, and of the important discoveries con- 
nected with his name. The various parts for which Empe- 
dodes was cast included the character of the physician, and 
among other figures in which the physician was concealed 
by the philosopher there were as a recent discover}' has 
shown Philolaus, Hippo, and Diogenes of Apollonia, who 
has been mentioned just above. But the ideal union of 
these two sciences is of far more importance than the fact 
that both were occasionally practised by one and the 
same person, and it was fostered by the conviction which 
gradually grew out of the culture of those times, and 
which may be formulated as follows : 

The human being is a part of the wftole of nature, and cannot 
be understood without it. What is wanted is a satisfactory general 
view of the process of the universe. Possessing this, we shall find 
the key in our hand which will open the most secret recesses of the 
art of medicine. 

A number of the alleged treatises of Hippocrates 
take the attitude therein defined displaying a common 


leaning to the systems of the nature-philosophy, and a 
common eclecticism, though in varying degrees, in 
employing them ; the majority, too, are marked by 
their connection with the medical teachings of the 
school founded at Cnidus, though it is impossible at 
this date to determine with certainty whether such 
connection was mainly accidental or depended on the 
peculiar character of the doctrines of the school. In support 
of the last-named alternative, we may instance the fact 
that the Cnidian physicians preferred with Empedocles * 
the more physical method of viewing the phenomena of 
life. Accordingly we have to distinguish between two 
great groups of medical treatises, those, namely, that were 
dominated by this standard of thought, and those that 
were opposed to it We place them in this order, not 
because we can assert with certainty that each number in 
the first group is older than each number in the second, 
but rather because their principles and chief examples are 
related in that way. The philosophy of nature gained an 
influence on medicine and began to transform it. Then came 
the reaction against its influence, and the attempt to hark 
back to the older and more empiric art of medicine. In the 
ensuing pages we shall describe this conflict and its issue, 
but in accordance with the proportions of our undertaking, 
we shall be content to illustrate the doctrines and methods 
most characteristic of both movements. 

4. The author of the work in four books entitled " On 
Diet " opened with a discussion of principles. 

" I contend" *so runs the conclusion of his preface that he 
who will write correctly on the subject of human diet must first of 
all know and understand the nature of man. He must know the 
parts of that nature out of which it is originally composed, and he 
must understand which of those parts predominates in its govern- 
ment. For if he be ignorant of its original composition, he will be 
unable to know what effects it produces ; and if he do not under- 
stand what part is supreme in the body, he will not be enabled to 
recommend to man what is beneficial to him." 

* Cp. Bku II. Ch. V. 3. 

Among other demands which the author brought 
forward were a knowledge of the constitution of all 
food-stuffs and drinks, and a comprehension of the far- 
reaching contrast between work and nutrition. "For the 
performances of work," he wrote, " are directed to the con- 
sumption of what exists, and food and drink are intended 
to replenish the void thus created." The fundamental 
condition of health is a correct proportion between work 
and nutrition in view of the constitution of the individual 
and of the differences of age, season, climate, and so 
forth. Except for the one factor of the individual con- 
stitution which previous to illness was unknown to the 
physician, good health, in the opinion of our author, could 
be preserved from all disturbance. Next he turned to the 
elements of the animal and human body, which he de- 
scribed as two in number, and it will not be fanciful to 
trace the influence of Parmenides in a writer who is 
otherwise strongly influenced by Heraclitus when we 
discover that he defined those two elements as fire and 
water. Fire he recognized as the universal principle of 
movement, and water as the universal principle of nutrition. 
In a passage which unmistakably refers to the movement 
of the luminaries we read that 

" when fire reaches the outermost boundary of water it begins to 
lack nourishment, so it turns round and reverts to the sources of 
its nourishment; when water reaches the outermost boundary of 
fire it begins to lack movement, so stands still and becomes . . . 
the prey of the fire in want of nourishment." 

The condition of the permanence of the universe in its 
existing state is that neither of the two elements shall 
gain dominion over the other, and the connecting link 
between the physiological and material doctrines is the 
idea, borrowed perhaps from Alcmaeon, of an equilibrium 
between the performance of work and nourishment on the 
one part, and between the cosmic agents of those functions 
on the other. 

Here for the moment we may call a halt. Enough 
been said to enable the attentive reader to acquaint 


himself, approximately at least, with the character of this 
work in its weakness as well as in its strength. We are 
confronted with a reflection, the greatness of which is 
not diminished because its significance was exaggerated 
by its author. Its effect is : The integrity of the organic 
economy rests on the equilibrium of its income and 
expenditure. We chose the method of verbal quotation 
above in order to avoid the suspicion of crediting 
even unconsciously an old and old-fashioned author 
with modern habits of thought We shall gain a 
clearer conception of his great generalization if we 
remember that similar though less far-reaching re- 
flections were made by other medical writers of pre- 
sumably an earlier date. Euryphon, the head of the 
Cnidian school and an older contemporary of Hippo- 
crates, conjectured that the causes of illness lay in a 
surplus of food ; and Herodicus, another Cnidian, ap- 
proached even more closely to the dictum of the author 
of " On Diet " in his statement that " men fall ill when 
they indulge in food on insufficient exercise." At the 
same time our author may claim the merit of having 
been the first to give expression to a fundamental truth 
in its full capacity, while he is no more affected by the 
reproach that he discovered in a single condition the sole 
operative cause of health than were his less far-sighted 
predecessors. It is one thing to discover new significant 
truths, it is another thing to realize the limits of their 
capacity ; it is one thing to give the reins to the general- 
izing instinct, it is another thing to know when to check 
it, and it would be foolish to ask an early pioneer of 
science to display both qualities at once. The value of 
that performance was more seriously affected by the 
attempt, laudable in itself, but unattainable by the methods 
then and even since at the disposal of science, to build 
physiology on a cosmological foundation. Some mischief 
was bound to be wrought by the purely speculative 
doctrine of matter and the strangely primitive, not to say 
anthropomorphic, astronomy which were used in this 
connection. Similarly, the thought that man was a 


model of the universe, a microcosm by the side of a 
macrocosm, was bound to lead to fanciful interpreta- 
tions. It was a grand idea in itself, but even in more 
advanced ages it was found to darken rather than to 
illumine the path of natural research, and it contains 
features which remind us of the philosophy of Schelling and 
Oken, such as, for example, the comparison between "the 
sea" and "the belly," as the universal "storeroom which 
provides for all and receives from all." Nor does the 
ambitious start of our dietetic author come to grief merely 
at these objective obstacles. His mind was like a stream 
which runs deep but not clear. He was well-nigh intoxi- 
cated by the enigmatic wisdom of Heraclitus, and the quiet 
and orderly disposition of his subject-matter was disturbed 
by his constant desire to illustrate the teachings of his master 
by ever fresh examples taken from the most various depart- 
ments of life. Nor did he disdain to imitate and surpass 
the Ephesian in the use which he made of the rights of 
paradox and self-contradiction. At one time he spoke in 
the manner and the very words of Heraclitus of the steady 
ceaseless " transformation " of matter ; at another time he 
agreed with Anaxagoras and Ernpedocles in reducing all 
"birth and decay" to "combinations and separations," 
and apologized for the use of those expressions as a con- 
venience of popular usage. In other respects, too, much 
that he borrowed from Empedocles is not even verbally 
harmonized with his Heraclitean principles. Thus it 
happened that the great principle originally promulgated 
failed to perform all that it promised. It remained the 
leading point of view for a large number of dietetic pre- 
cepts, especially in questions of nourishment and gymnastic 
exercises, elaborated with a wealth of instructive detail. 
But even these most important parts of his undertaking 
were injured by the vain attempts, repeated with weari- 
some iteration, to derive the differences of physical and 
even psychical conditions from the proportion of the two 
fictitious primary substances, though many actual ex- 
periences were turned to good account in this connection, 
and at least one original experiment was made, namely, 
VOL, I. U 


that of artificial vomiting in order to test the respective 
digestible qualities of food-stuffs simultaneously con- 

And now for the concluding book. It is entitled " On 
Dreams," and we might say of it, after Horace, that it 
formed a fish-like tail of a lovely figure of a woman. It 
begins with the distinction, already familiar to us from 
Herodotus, between supernatural and natural visions. The 
first kind was left to the interpretation of soothsayers who 
were quite gravely alleged and we regret the absence of 
irony to possess "an exact knowledge" on the subject. 
Dreams which sprang from natural causes, however, were 
used as the basis of inferences as to the constitution of the 
body, and we may readily agree that certain dreams can 
be traced back to over-feeding, and treated by an aperient. 
But in his desire to exploit the inquiry to some purpose, our 
author speedily transgressed the limits which at least pre- 
served him from absurdity. He set full sail on the flood of 
child-like superstition, and by reasonings in the style of 
Artemidorus he attained to goals of childishness to which 
we are indisposed to follow him. 

Mention must be made of a further treatise " On the 
Muscles," which we perceive, from its references to a fore- 
going and a succeeding book, to have been but a brief 
section of a comprehensive work "On the Science of 
Medicine," and which exhibits the same characteristics of 
attractive self-contradiction. The author is here revealed 
as a practitioner of ripe experience who has seen much 
and observed keenly, as long, at least, as his faculties of 
sight and observation were not obstructed by preconceived 
opinions. He was the first to recognize that the so-called 
spinal marrow is entirely distinct from the common marrow 
of the bones, that it possesses membranes, and is related with 
the brain. Thus he came considerably nearer than his prede- 
cessors to a correct appreciation of its nature and meaning. 
Again, he had seen suicides who had attempted to cut 
their throats, and who had been robbed of their speech 
by the knife penetrating the trachea; speech had been 
restored to them by the closing of the scission, and thence 


he drew the correct conclusion that it had been the air 
escaping through the wound which had made it impossible 
for them to speak, and he used his observation to confirm 
his true theory of the formation of vocal sounds. Nor was 
he content with mere observations of this kind and the 
occasional experiment of a lesion and its surgical treatment. 
He undertook deliberate experiments of his own, though 
on a modest basis. He was aware, for example, of the 
coagulation of blood drawn from the body, but he had 
prevented the formation of a clot by shaking the blood. 
Again, in order to distinguish the composition of the various 
tissues he subjected them to the process of boiling, and 
drew conclusions as to their constitution from the relative 
ease and difficulty with which they could be boiled. We 
cannot conceal our admiration of these accurate observa- 
tions, methodical experiments, and logical conclusions, 
which were accompanied, nevertheless, by misobservations 
and arbitrary assumptions to an almost incredible extent. 
Thus his belief in the efficacy of the number seven in all 
processes of natural and human life practically blinded him 
to the evidence of facts. He was bold enough to declare 
that no eight-months child ever remained alive. Besides 
the normal term of pregnancy -nine months and ten days, or 
40 X 7 days he would only admit a prospect of preservation 
for a seven-months child. On the other hand, he asserted 
that he had seen embryos of seven days old in which all 
the parts of the body were plainly discernible. He was 
equally prepared to prove that abstention from food and 
drink could not last longer than seven days without causing 
death, whether within that period, or as he naively added 
at a later date. Even people who, after the expiry of 
seven days, desisted from this kind of suicide by no means 
rare in antiquity were likewise irretrievably lost, for 
their body, he stated, proved incapable of assimilating 

The rigour of our author's thought did not save him 
from the spell of number, and in other directions too he 
succumbed to the wiles of imagination. But their victim 
may well be pardoned, for it is difficult to see how 


questions which defy the resources, not of that age merely, 
but of this, could have been answered save by fancy. Nay, 
more. His attempts at solution were predestined to 
sterility, and the questions themselves have been prohibited 
by modern science. For our author was engaged with no 
smaller task than the problem of organic creation. No 
hint of the doctrine of evolution had crossed his mind. 
Accordingly he did not search, as the boldest of our own 
contemporaries have hitherto searched in vain, for the 
possible mode of the origin of the simplest organisms on 
earth, but he sought to derive man himself, the crown 
of earthly existence, directly from material substances. 
And from what substances ! The single tissues and their 
combinations were to be derived by putrefaction and 
coagulation, by condensation and rarefaction, by melting 
and boiling, from the warm and the cold, the moist and 
the dry, and the fat and the gelatinous. It was only by 
way of exception, too, that an element of doubt or reser- 
vation was introduced by an occasional " it seems to me " 
in the dogmatic and self-confident argumentation. " Thus 
came the lungs into existence," "thus was the liver formed/' 
"the spleen was composed as follows," "the joints were 
composed in this manner," " thus the teeth grew " one para- 
graph after another with wearisome uniformity opens with 
some such phrase. We need not trouble about their con- 
tents, but our interest is aroused by the level of thought 
attained by these premature attempts to penetrate the most 
intimate secrets of natural life. An important distinction 
must here be drawn. We have to get rid of the first dis- 
agreeable impression, difficult though it may be, with which 
we are filled by the temerity of the undertaking. By that 
means alone shall we be able to reach the sound kernel of 
the work which is concealed under the adventurous exterior. 
It brings a thought to light which would not be belied even 
by the science of our own times. We yield assent to the 
statement that the art of healing must be based on a know- 
ledge of pathological processes, and that this must in turn 
be founded on an acquaintance with life in health. The 
science of corporeal functions presupposes an acquaintance; 


with the organs by which they are conditioned, nor can 
that acquaintance be gained without understanding their 
elementary constituent parts and the substances and forces 
which are at work in them and on them. Finally, in 
Aristotle's words, "he who sees things grow from the 
beginning will have the finest view of them." In other 
words, therapeutics must be founded on pathology, 
pathology on physiology and anatomy, physiology and 
anatomy on histology, chemistry, and physics. The theory 
of evolution shows us the road which leads from the lowest 
or simplest organisms to the highest or most complicated, 
and the goal of the long journey is faintly seen in the 
perspective in the revelation of the causes of the develop- 
ment of the organic from the inorganic world. In the 
experiment with which we are dealing the intermediate 
links are omitted or are sketched in the faintest colours, 
and the end of the long series is connected directly with 
the beginning. Our author's work is characterized accord- 
ingly by an extraordinary audacity which we shall better 
understand if we are content to regard it as an indication 
of the self-confidence of youth. To the bright hopes of 
the childhood of the ages which no failure had yet availed 
to dim, the ultimate goals of science may well have appeared 
so near as to be within arm's length. The author of the 
book " On the Muscles " is just such a disciple of nature- 
philosophy. Countless details of his doctrine, not to 
speak of the spirit which inspired him, show him plainly 
as a man who had learned from Heraclitus, Empe- 
docles, and Anaxagoras, and had written in an era when 
the eclectic fusion of their doctrines had already begun. 
At the very introduction of his treatise he referred to the 
"common teachings " of predecessors to whose work he has 
contributed his part, and he felt himself bound to premise 
as much "about heavenly things" as was necessary to 
show "what man and the other animals are, how they 
originated and arose, what is the soul, what health, what 
sickness, what evil and good in man, and whence death 
comes to him." As the primary principle he selected 
"the warm, which is immortal, which sees, hears, and 


understands all things, and is cognizant'of the present and 
the future." Its bulk had disappeared into the heights of 
celestial space in consequence of that " concussion " of the 
universe which he agreed with Anaxagoras and Empedocles 
in describing as the starting-point of cosmic phenomena, 
and that warm he states to be what the ancients had 
called ^Ether. When we have added that the "rotation" 
of cosmos also appeared to him as a consequence of that 
concussion, we shall have carried sufficiently far our inves- 
tigation into the details of his fundamental doctrine. 

The book "On Muscles," with its somewhat unfortu- 
nate title, had its sequel in the work "On the Number 
Seven." This treatise, the bulk of which has only been 
preserved in an Arabic and a Latin translation, need not 
delay us very long. It marks the most flourishing epoch 
in the popular belief in the wonderful efficacy of that 
number. Once more we are told that " the embryo takes 
shape after seven days, and proves itself a human being." 
Once more, as in the books " On Diet," we are introduced 
to the " seven vowels " or rather the seven vocal signs of the 
Greek language, among which e and 5 are included, while a 
and I and y are absent, because in the Greek alphabet they 
happen to have no distinctive symbols. No less a man 
than Solon had already considered the dominion of the 
number seven in the demarcation of the ages of man, but 
now the whole world, the winds, the seasons, the human 
soul, the human body, the functions of the head, each and 
all were to be stamped with the hall-mark of seven. 
Another ruling thought in this treatise has likewise been 
made familiar to us by our discussion of the work "On 
Diet" It consists in the comparison between the individual 
and the universe, the analogy between the microcosm and 
the macrocosm. We may quote at this point our author's 
own words 

"Animals and plants on earth have a constitution which 
resembles that of the universe. Wherefore, since the whole agrees, 
its parts must likewise show the same composition as the parts of 
the world. . . . The earth, being firm and immovable, resembles 
the bones in its stony and solid parts. . . . That which surrounds 


them is like the soluble flesh of man. , . . The water in the rivers 
resembles the blood that flows in the veins," 

and so forth. Both thoughts are combined in the almost 
ludicrous comparison of the earth with the human body, 
in which seven parts of the body and seven parts of the 
earth are arbitrarily selected and ranged with one another. 
A parallel, for instance, is discovered between the Pelo- 
ponnesus as "the seat of high-minded men " and the "head 
and face," between Ionia and the diaphragm, between 
Egypt with its sea and the belly. These and similar 
excesses of an unbridled imagination were calculated to 
produce a reaction. There is nothing like them in history, 
except perhaps the alchemy of the Arabs with their seven 
metals, seven stones, seven volatile bodies, seven natural 
and seven artificial salts, seven kinds of alum, seven chief 
chemical operations, etc. The reaction that ensued marks 
the first dawn of the true science of Greece and the 
Western world. 

5. Without soaring aspiration and without daring deed 
there is no science, no knowledge of nature. The conquest 
of a new region of knowledge resembles in many respects 
the occupation of virgin territory. First come the road- 
makers, who unite a number of isolated points ; then 
come the bridge-makers, who span many a yawning chasm ; 
and last come the temporary shelters, which must ultimately 
be replaced by statelier buildings on deeper foundations 
and composed of more durable materials. These processes 
correspond respectively to the preliminary generalizations 
restrained by no manner of obstacles, to the bold argu- 
ments from analogy, and to the first construction of hypo- 
theses. But woe to the settlement where the hand of its 
founders has been guided by blind enthusiasm rather than 
by shrewd calculation. Traffic will retire from the deserted 
streets, palaces will fall in ruins, and the homesteads will 
remain untenanted. That fate threatened the intellectual 
achievements of the epoch with which we are dealing. 
The apprentice-years of the mere collection of facts were 
followed by the Wanderjahre of vague, restless speculation. 


These had now lasted long enough, and it was time for 
the Mdsterjahre of quiet, methodical research to succeed 
if science was to acquire steady and sedentary habits instead 
of losing itself in a maze of phantasies, revolving in idle 
circles. It is the undying glory of the medical school of Cos 
that it introduced this innovation in the domain of its art, 
and thus exercised the most beneficial influence on the whole 
intellectual life of mankind. " Fiction to the right ! Reality 
to the left ! " was the battle-cry of this school in the war they 
were the first to wage against the excesses and defects of the 
nature-philosophy. Nor could it have found any more 
suitable champions, for the serious and noble calling of the 
physician, which brings him every day and every hour in 
close communion with nature, in the exercise of which mis- 
takes in theory engender the most fatal practical conse- 
quences, has served in all ages as a nursery of the most 
genuine and incorruptible sense of truth. The best 
physicians must be the best observers, but the man who sees 
keenly, who hears clearly, and whose senses, powerful at the 
start, are sharpened and refined by constant exercise, will 
only in exceptional instances be a visionary or a dreamer. 
The line of demarcation dividing reality from the fictions of 
the imagination is dug more deeply in his instance, as it were, 
till it becomes an impassable gulf. He can never be absent 
from his post in the campaign against the encroachments 
of fancy on the domain of reason. Even in our own 
century we have to thank the physicians for our liberation 
from the tyranny of the nature-philosophy. The bitterest 
denunciations of that error and of the mischief that it 
works still proceed from the lips of men who have sat at 
the feet of Johannes Mtiller, the great physiologist and 
anatomist It is no valid argument to reply that there is 
merely a nominal and external likeness between the nature- 
philosophy of Schelling and that of Heraclitus or Empe- 
docles. The point to be remembered is that the defective 
logic which was a common characteristic both of the 
modern and of the ancient schools was far more pardon- 
able and comprehensible in the earlier than in the latter 
growth. The signs of degeneracy, of reaction, and of 


senile decay in the one are but the natural accompaniment 
in the other of the slow emancipation of science from the 
mythological traditions of the childhood of the world. But 
whether the light was newly kindled, or whether it had 
long been burning with a steady flame, the shadows that 
threatened to darken it had to be dispelled in either 

The author of the treatise " On Old Medicine " was 
the first to open the campaign along the whole line of 
battle. With a deep sense of the dignity of his calling, 
and with a keen appreciation of Its significance for the 
welfare and prosperity of mankind, he refused to be 
indifferent to a movement which tended to degrade its 
worth, to annul the distinction between good physicians and 
bad, and what was most important to undermine the 
structure of the science itself. His attack was not directed 
at isolated details in the system of his adversaries ; he 
went to the root of the evil. He condemned the method 
of the " new-fangled " art of healing, without respect and 
without reserve. The science, he urged, was not to be 
founded on hypothesis, though this was the primrose path. 
It was taking things too easily to assume 

" a single primary cause for illnesses and for death, and the same 
cause in every instance, and to postulate as that cause one or two 
factors, whether the warm or the cold, the damp or the dry, or any- 
thing else that occurred. . . . But the healing art " which was no 
pseudo-science, and had, moreover, to deal with sensible objects 
ce possesses all things from of old, a principle, and a beaten track 
along which in the course of ages many splendid discoveries have 
been made, and along which the science will be perfected, if men 
of adequate talent, equipped with the knowledge of the discoveries 
made hitherto, take these as their starting-point, and set out thence 
on further inquiries. He who rejects and despises all this, however, 
and undertakes his investigations on another road and in other 
forms and claims to have discovered something, he is deceived 
and deceives himself, for it is impossible." 

At first we might seem to be listening to the voice of 
some old crusted Tory who held aloof from every kind of 


innovation. But such a judgment would be wholly unjusti- 
fied. Our author was fully capable of defending his 
exclusive preference for the old empiric we do not say 
inductive method. He began by pointing to its merits, 
placing them in the clearest light by extending the 
conventional bounds covered by the art of healing. Nor 
was it merely dietetics, in the full sense of that term, 
which he regarded as a constituent branch of the art. He 
included in his inquiry the transition from the coarse 
nourishment, which, as he pertinently remarked, men origi- 
nally shared with the brute creation, to the refined cuisine 
of civilized peoples. This transition, which we take as a 
matter of course, he characterized as "a great invention, 
elaborated and perfected in the course of centuries with no 
mean display of intelligence and imagination." Precisely 
parallel to the experiments by which the indigestible quality 
of that primitive diet had been proved of old were the fresh 
experiments which enabled the physician to vary the 
nourishment appropriate to a healthy man with that fit 
and wholesome for an invalid. In the instance of the 
treatment of health, every one was more or less an expert, 
and it is not surprising that it was separated from the 
treatment of disease which demanded professional know- 
ledge. Nevertheless, the science was uniform, and its process 
in both cases was precisely the same. In the one as in the 
other, it was advisable to correct the foods which the human 
body could not assimilate by mixing them, mitigating 
them, or diluting them, so that the healthy organism in 
the one case and the diseased organism in the other could 
master them and derive benefit from them. Our author 
next turned to individual differences in matters of diet, 
which he illustrated by many examples. He found that 
they rested partly on original distinctions of constitution and 
partly on distinctions of habit. They were not reducible to 
any one common principle, but could only be discerned and 
taken in account by the most careful and unremitting obser- 
vation. It was an obvious consequence of this need of strict 
individual treatment that precise accuracy could not always 
be guaranteed. Another and no less fruitful source of error 


was the fact that there are dangers of a precisely opposite 
kind. The physician was bound to be on his guard against 
excess as well as against defect, against a too strong as well 
as against a too weak quality of the means of nourishment. 
At this point we are first confronted by the conception of 
an " exact " science of a science, that is to say, admitting 
determination by quantities. In its present stage it was 
purely an ideal, the attainment of which in the realm of 
dietetics and medicine had to be abandoned on the spot. 
"One must aim at a standard," we read, "but a standard, 
weight, or number which shall serve thee as a sure guide 
thou shalt not find, seeing that there is no other than the 
sensibility of the body." And precisely because this was 
merely an approximate standard without strict exactitude, 
slight divagations to the right or the left of the mean were 
practically inevitable. The highest praise was due to that 
physician who committed merely trivial blunders ; the 
majority were like those steersmen who repeatedly err with 
impunity in a quiet sea and under a cloudless sky, but whose 
mistakes are fraught with fatal consequences if a storm 

The new medicine was swiftly exposed to another reproach 
of more incisive importance. Its premises and precepts 
were alleged not to cover the actual many-sidedness of 
objects. The new-fangled teaching an epithet which 
applied to the doctrine of Alcmaeon as well as to that of 
the books "On Diet" recommended the application of 
" the cold against the warm, the warm against the cold ; the 
moist against the dry, the dry against the moist." Every 
time that 

"one of these factors had wrought mischief, it was to be 
corrected by the application of the opposite factor. . . . But those 
physicians, so far as I know," continued our author, " have hitherto 
discovered or invented no warm, or cold, or dry, or moist which 
is so in itself, unalloyed with any other quality. It is rather my 
opinion that they are acquainted with no other foods and drinks 
than those which we all employ. It is impossible, then, for them 
to order the invalid to feed on a 'warm,' for he would instantly 
ask, On what kind oi a * warm ' ? And thereupon they would 


have recourse either to empty verbiage or to one of the substances 
with which we are familiar." 

It would make considerable difference, too, whether the 
"warm" were an astringent or aperient, or which of 
the other natural qualities it possessed ; and this differ- 
ence in effect would not merely apply to men, but to 
wood and leather, and many other objects by no means 
as sensitive as the human body. 

We reach now the most important part of the book, 
in which the fundamental principles of our author came to 
their clearest expression. 

" Some people say," he wrote, " physicians as well as sophists " 
by whom, as we conceive, he merely meant philosophers " that 
it is not possible to understand the medical art except by learning 
what man is. He who would treat men in the right way must 
first understand this. This saying of theirs is directed at philosophy 
as it has been practised by Empedocles and others who have 
written about nature and have discussed the origin of man, how 
he came into existence, and how his parts were joined together. 
But I believe," he continued, "that all that sophists or physicians 
have said or written about nature belongs less to the art of medicine 
than to that of painting. It is my opinion, on the contrary, that 
certain knowledge about nature can be gained from no other 
point of view than from that of medical science. This is attainable, 
however, by any one who chooses to approach that study in a 
proper fashion, and with regard to the fulness of its extent. But 
it seems to me that there is a long road still to be travelled before 
that degree of erudition is reached which shall know what man 
is, by what cause he was created, and all else to the least detail." 

We may pause here, not unprofitably, in order to explain 
some points. Our readers will note the almost verbal 
resemblance of the above introductory words with the 
passage quoted just now, at the beginning of section 4, from 
the work "On Diet," where the proposition that is here 
so energetically disputed is vindicated with equal energy. 
We can hardly fail to recognize a direct polemical intention, 
and it affords a glaring instance of the so-called uniformity 
of the Hippocratic canon. The mention of painting in 
this connection gives, us a momentary shock, but a brief 


consideration will show that the author could hardly have 
chosen a more appropriate expression for his thought. 
He obviously wanted to say that descriptions of the origin 
of animals and men, of the kind attempted by Empedocles, 
might be attractive, fascinating, and seductive, but they 
were not science. Now, the contrary of science, which 
aims at truth rather than at pleasure, is found in such 
cases in the region of the fine arts, inasmuch as the im- 
agination can deal freely therein with the shapes and 
colours that it invents. The type which we should obvi- 
ously select is that of poetry, but it would have been out of 
place for the present purpose of inveighing at the contents 
of the work of Empedocles on account of the poetic form 
in which that work was composed. The sharp and almost 
harsh manner in which our author contrasted fiction and 
fact, and dismissed the first from the realm of serious atten- 
tion, reminds us of the contempt expressed by Herodotus 
about the stream of ocean, and quoted by us at the close 
of the last book. We should be glad to see the hint that 
medicine, practised in a proper fashion and in its full 
capacity, is the beginning of all true knowledge of nature 
developed more fully to its conclusions. For we may 
almost detect in the saying the insight, or at least the 
conjecture, that all our knowledge about nature is relative, 
and that the true goal of human inquiry is not what nature 
is in herself, but what she is in her relation to man's 
perceptive faculties. This at least is the trend of the 
sequel of this important passage, with which we hasten to 
acquaint our readers : 

" For to me too," continues our author, " it seems necessary 
that every physician should possess knowledge about nature, and 
that he should give himself the utmost pains in that respect if he 
wishes to be equal to his task. He must know the relation of 
man to the food and drink that he consumes, and to all else that 
he does and practises. He must know what effect each thing 
exercises on each man. Nor is it enough to be of opinion that 
cheese is a bad food because it inconveniences him who is satiated 
with it. The physician must know what kind of inconvenience it 
produces, and what is its cause, and with what part of the human 


body it fails to conform. For there are many other foods and 
drinks which are naturally injurious, which yet do not affect men in 
the same way. Let me select the instance of wine, which, if enjoyed 
unmixed and in krge quantities, will affect men in a certain way. 
And observation shows to all that this is the work and the effect 
of wine. We know, too, through what parts of the body it chiefly 
produces that result, and I could wish that equal clarity should be 
shed over all the other instances." . 

These remarks too require a word of explanation. The 
first point to be noticed is the incisive and doubtless 
deliberate contrast between our author's everyday language 
and his homely example and the high-flown matter and no 
less aspiring manner of Empedocles and those who thought 
like him. We can conceive the anti-philosopher addressing 
his adversaries in this wise : " I too am striving after a 
comprehensive knowledge of nature, the threads of whose 
1 most intimate secrets ye think ye have already unravelled 
' and proclaim your triumph in gorgeous phrases. But how 
modest are my immediate ends, how far I remain behind 
the proud flight of your thought, how verily I creep along 
the ground of trivial occurrences and everyday questions 
which have yet been solved but in the smallest proportion." 
Yes, our excellent author deemed himself as free as possible 
from the taint of temerity and the disease of scholar's 
pride, and yet fate overtook him precisely at that point 
The bitter contempt that he poured from a full horn over 
his predecessors was avenged by fate on his owntperson, 
and in view of the evidence we have collected as to the 
soundness of his knowledge we are well-nigh tempted to 
exclaim, his modesty was rooted in immodesty, and his 
was the pride that vainly aped humility. The modicum of 
certain knowledge to which he laid claim and which he 
considered as self-evident truth was but the semblance of 
knowledge. For since he was entirely ignorant of the 
chemistry of digestion no less than of the physiology of 
the brain, the heart, and the blood-vessels, his explanations 
of the indigestibleness of cheese and of the intoxication 
produced by wine, whatever forms they may have taken, 
were certainly built on a false foundation. 


We are startled and almost confused at the result of 
the preceding investigation. The question rises to our 
lips, Was it all in vain this reaction on the part of the 
clear-sighted physician against the arbitrary methods, his 
enthusiastic return to the genuine evidence of facts, and 
his unremitting polemic against those of his predecessors 
who had "misled the art of medicine from its ancient 
track and started it on the road of hypothesis " ? For he 
too had fallen unwittingly into the toils of hypothetical 
research, nor was his relapse confined to a few false 
observations more or less, nor to the misinterpretation of 
isolated facts ; it involved complete explanatory attempts 
proceeding wholly from the region of a physiology based 
on hypothesis. Let us guard against the risk of mis- 
understanding. We would not, therefore, depreciate or 
condemn our author's achievements, still less would we 
brand his polemic as altogether vain and ineffectual. In 
order to frame an adequate judgment, we must make a 
further slight digression ; and, in choosing the longer 
road, we may hope to attain to a height from which we 
shall be able to form a truer and more comprehensive 
appreciation of the two conflicting tendencies of thought. 

6. An hypothesis is an assumption or a supposition. 
Where and as long as full certainty of knowledge eludes 
us, it is necessary to set up mere assumptions. That 
necessity is twofold. It is indispensable to the matter 
discussed and inevitable to the man discussing. Humanly 
inevitable, because the mind has not yet been created 
which can receive and retain a long series of details with- 
out encircling them and connecting them by a common 
bond. Memory craves relief, and in the realm of the 
co-existence of phenomena that craving is satisfied by 
classification, whereas in the realm of causal succes- 
sion the aid of hypothesis has to be invoked. And 
if the demands of reason and of the causal sense possess 
sufficient strength in the investigator's mind, they cannot 
remain idle even at the beginning of his task. Tenta- 
tively at least, hypotheses must be formed in the earlier 
stages of an inquiry which shall serve as the rungs of 


the ladder to ascend to the ultimate goal. It has 
been acutely remarked that every approved theory of 
to-day was at one time an hypothesis. It is subjectively 
impossible, in dealing with the countless details of which 
a comprehensive theory is ultimately to be composed, to 
keep them during its construction in their original segrega- 
tion and to preserve their psychical isolation ; and a similar 
objective impossibility would attend the endeavour lo 
descry, gather, and sift the elements of experience, or even 
to create them by the artificial means provided in natural 
science, unless the light of a preliminary hypothesis were 
shed over the path of the investigator to guide his footsteps 
to his end. Precisely the same process is set in motion 
when the end in view is not the attainment of general 
truths, but the ascertainment of single occurrences. Before 
a judge comes to consider his verdict he will generally have 
begun by considering the grounds of suspicion, and every 
such ground of suspicion is expressed in a supposition or 
hypothesis. Moreover, if his mind be awake through the 
trial, the depositions of witnesses and the other evidence 
collected on the basis of such an early hypothesis will give 
rise in the course of the proceedings to ever-fresh hypotheses, 
and, supposing him to have a logical as well as a wakeful 
mind, to ever-fresh and more exact approximations to the 
ultimate verdict or truth. Two causes alone can affect 
the value of the preliminary assumption as a stage on the 
victorious road to truth. The first is due to a subjective 
error to be traced to the mind of the inquirer, and the 
second to an objective defect attaching to the means of 
inquiry. The hypothesis will obstruct and hinder, instead 
of facilitating, the attainment of a final solution, if the 
inquirer's mind be lacking in the requisite pliability and 
adaptability. He will then overlook the provisional character 
of his assumptions ; he will disband the forces of his 
intellect at too early a date, and will mistake a portion, of 
his journey, and a very short portion perhaps, for the com- 
pletion of his task. And the hypothesis will be devoid of 
scientific value, or at least of the highest scientific value, if 
it be intrinsically incapable of emerging from a provisional 


and assumptive truth into an ultimate and definitive one 
in other words, if it offer not the least handle for the 
purpose of verification. It would be idle to expect 
complete clearness on this and on kindred questions of 
method from the earliest author who offers us any dis- 
cussion whatsoever on the value of hypothetical investiga- 
tions, and who, indeed, as far as any record has come 
down to us, is the first to. have used the word "hypothesis " 
in its technical sense. The greater is the credit that 
redounds to him that he was by no means unfamiliar with 
the most far-reaching of the distinctions that are here 
to be considered. It must be conceded that he used the 
word "hypothesis" in a somewhat loose fashion, without 
expressly distinguishing between verifiable and non- 
verifiable assumptions ; but the brunt of his attack fell on 
the second of these classes, which was more or less the 
object of all his invectives against hypothetical investiga- 
tion. For when he argued against the application of that 
new method to medicine, he supported his cause by the 
following significant remarks : that science needed no 
" empty hypotheses," he wrote, as did 

" the invisible and unfathomable things. Any one who should 
attempt a description of such things would have to avail himself 
of hypothesis. Thus with regard to things in heaven or to those 
under the earth. And even though he knew and said what was 
correct about them, yet neither he nor his hearers would be aware 
if it were the truth or not, for he has no standard which he can 
apply in order to attain full certainty." 

The term " empty " in this connection is a jewel in the 
crown of science. It is meant to stigmatize hypotheses, 
in themselves incapable of proof, and likened to idle 
fictions which are refused admittance across the threshold 
of genuine science. Let us renew our recollection of two 
similar treasures before we attempt to estimate its worth. 
There was first the passage from Xenophanes* which 
emphasized, in language closely similar to our present 
quotation, and still more so to the Greek original, the 

* Bk. II. Ch. I. 3,/. 


significance of verification ; and there was, secondly, the 
similarly inspired utterance of the historian Herodotus, to 
which we have already had occasion to refer.* Taking 
these in account, and remembering that our author's feud 
against hypothetical investigation was essentially directed 
at a special kind of hypotheses, we see that there was 
nothing to prevent him from using hypotheses on his own 
account without incurring the charge of inconsistency. It 
was inevitable that he should have formed hypothetical 
conceptions about the nature of the digestive process and 
the causes of drunkenness ; they were as natural to the 
childhood of physiology and its sister sciences as was 
their subsequent correction when the sciences matured. 
But it is one thing to make an erroneous hypothesis, it is 
quite another thing to make an unscientific hypothesis 
which is entirely or partially incapable of verification. It 
may be urged that every hypothesis is not clearly 
brand-marked as unverifiable or the contrary, as doomed 
to remain a hypothesis for ever, or as possessing the 
power to develop its own means of proving, approxi- 
mately at least, its truth or falsehood. But though this 
is generally the case, it is not universally so. These retorts 
and counter retorts, however, need not occupy us long, for 
" the hot " and " the cold," " the dry " and " the moist," 
as the fundamental constituent parts of the human 
organism, or even as the chief factors that affect it, were, 
to speak precisely, even less than mere hypotheses they 
were fictions, or rather abstractions disguised as realities. 
Certain qualities were segregated from the complex of 
attributes with which they were really indissolubly con- 
nected, and were moreover invested with a supremacy 
that did not reasonably belong to them ; for these varia- 
tions of temperature and of the state of aggregation, which 
were there brought into play, do not always bring in their 
train a decisive change in all the rest of the attributes. It 
was one of the great positive merits of the treatise which 
we are discussing, that it emphasized this consideration and 
hinted at the comparatively greater significance of the 
* Bk. II. Ch. VI. 


chemical qualities of bodies, throwing at the same time a 
side glance at the influences these. exercised on substances 
not belonging to the living organism. Our author was there- 
fore justified in describing heat and cold as qualities which 
possess a comparatively very small power over the body, 
and in recalling such phenomena of reaction as the effect 
of inward heat produced by taking a cold bath. 

But it is time to abandon these details. The question 
whether this or that hypothesis was more or less scientific 
in character, whether a greater or a less degree of legiti- 
macy attached to it, is not as important to our purpose 
as the broad conflict of methods with which our readers 
should by this time be familiar, and which /-presents no 
very great difficulties. The rule of sound common sense, 
"to start from the known or the sensible and thence to 
infer the unknown," was as obvious to Herodotus and 
Euripides as at a later date to Epicurus, and we have here 
to remark that it was violated quite openly and crudely 
by the physicians who planted their footsteps in the lines 
of nature-philosophy. Problems, such as that of the 
origin of organic life or of the human race, which modern 
science still regards as insoluble, were placed at "the head 
of their programme, and medical precepts were founded on 
attempts to solve them which bore not merely a hypothe- 
tical, but a fantastic character. We cannot affect to be 
surprised that a reaction should have set in, nor should we 
attempt to deny that such a reaction was wholesome. Still, 
we must be on our guard against one-sided and exaggerated 
views. The new way was a necessary way, and it would be 
false to describe it as wholly and solely a misleading way. 
It was inevitable that the doctrines of nature-philosophy 
should penetrate the several sciences and begin to transform 
their methods. We have already seen reason to believe that 
the arbitrary element which clung to most of those theories 
was bound to be expelled, but its elimination did not 
necessarily destroy all the effects of its influence ; some of 
them, and those not the least beneficial, might survive. 
Above all, an ideal that has once been erected, however 
pitiable, however grotesque its subsequent failure may be, 


Is not lost to posterity, and the attempt to rescue the 
science of medicine from the isolation which threatened to 
swallow it, and to regard it as a single branch on the great 
tree of universal science, was at any rate an ideal. At 
first, it must be conceded, and for long afterwards, this 
ambitious undertaking failed for want of the requisite 
foundations, and thus a return became necessary which 
was almost equivalent to a retreat to the older methods 
of research and to the narrow limits in which they 
had been confined. But here too we must guard against 
misunderstanding. It is not enough to summarize the 
relation between the two conflicting tendencies in the 
conventional formula : the false deductive method was 
buried in the ruins of the philosophical theoiy of medicine, 
and the correct inductive method was borne in on the 
triumph of Hippocrates. For in dealing with highly com- 
plicated phenomena, with aggregate processes composed 
of innumerable details, no other method is recommended 
to investigators than that which builds up the whole out 
of its parts, and refers the so-called empiric or derivative 
laws to the simple or ultimate causal laws from which 
they spring. The secret of the former and even of the 
present employment of cruder and less suitable methods is 
not to be found in the intrinsic falsehood of the deductive 
method. It is rather a sign that that method can only be 
applied with success in an infinitely more advanced stage in 
the development of science, and an indication that pathology 
was then found wanting in its anatomical and physiological 
basis, and that physiology then, as partly even now, rested 
on an insecure foundation of cellular-physiology, of physics, 
and of chemistry. We are dealing here with the beginnings 
of a period of transition which has continued down to our 
own times, for it is only to-day that the most advanced 
portions of organic science admit at least a partial use of 
deduction, and have thus begun to enter the last and 
highest stage of scientific treatment The type of deduc- 
tion is calculation, and calculation is most fully employed 
at this date in the business of the oculist, so far as 
it is founded on optics. But there are other branches 


of therapeutics in a high degree of development which 
rest on a deductive basis. Take, for instance, the anti- 
septic treatment of wounds, the object of which is the 
destruction of micro-organisms which have been recognized 
with complete certainty as the agents of disease an object 
which is attained by the use of substances the chemical 
qualities of which hold out with equal certainty a prospect 
of the desired result. This method offers the completest 
contrast with the proceeding in cases where there is no 
clear evidence of causation, and where the defect cannot 
be supplied either by direct, unequivocal, and drastic cures 
the genuine experimental method, nor yet by the 
decisively favourable results of observations taken in such 
numbers as to eliminate the element of chance in other 
words, by the statistical method. Those are the medica- 
ments of which it is correctly said that they are "re- 
commended to-day, eulogized to-morrow, and forgotten 
two years hence." The undying glory of the school of Cos 
does not rest on their selection and use of methods of re- 
search better in themselves or nearer to ideal perfection. 
Their chief title to esteem is rather the insight they 
displayed in perceiving that the premises for the applica- 
tion of the deductive method were not yet extant, that 
they had not even come in view, and that fantastic con- 
ceptions were taking the place of the requisite and valid 
inductions. The pioneer virtues which distinguished the 
Coic masters from their opponents were a self-abnegation, 
and a timely renunciation of ambitions, fascinating enough 
and even exalted in themselves, but at that era and long 
afterwards out of reach, and these virtues entitle them to 
our ungrudging admiration at this day. We recognize their 
supreme merit in having developed, with tireless powers of 
observation and extraordinary faculties of clear sight and 
strong sense, those branches of the art of healing which 
were capable of extension without digging their foundations 
more deeply. Above all, we may specify their contributions 
to symptomatology which, by their endless supply of nice 
distinctions and acute observations, are a source of pleasure 
and instruction to modern students of that branch of learning. 



Unfortunately, however, they could not wholly renounce the 
construction of comprehensive theories. They too dabbled 
in hypotheses which, as far as they went, were as fruitful of 
errors as those of their predecessors, and were only less 
fruitful because they did not go as far. Their humoural 
pathology, for instance, which is the hall-mark of the Hip- 
pocratic school, and which referred all internal diseases 
to the constitution and proportion of the four presumable 
cardinal humours, possesses, in the judgment of modern 
science, not a jot more truth than the anthropogony of 
the book " On Muscles " or the fictitious theory of matter 
which was combated in the treatise " On Old Medicine." 

7. This, then, at least must be conceded. The genius 
of the physicians of Cos was fertile in generalizations of all 
kinds, whether true or false, and their motive-power may 
most probably be traced to the speculations of the nature- 
philosophers. This "old medicine" of the alleged reaction 
was no more the real old medicine than the France of the 
Restoration was the France of the Ancien Rdgime. The 
eroal and trend of the movement were determined hence- 


forth by the critical sense and sceptical genius of the 
Hippocratic school At an early date it assumed as 
definite an attitude towards the supernatural theology as 
it had already assumed towards the fantastic excesses of 
some doctrines of the nature- philosophy, and towards those 
metaphysical theories which transgressed all bounds of 
experience.* Here, as elsewhere, we are struck by the 
contrast between Cos and Cnidus. The treatise " On the 
Nature of Women," which is as full of the influence of 
Cnidus as the larger work " On the Diseases of Women," 
to which it went back, exalts "the divine" and "divine 
things" to a place of differential superiority over and 
above all other factors. "The divine" is mentioned at 
the opening of the Hippocratic " Prognosticon " as an agent 
of occasional efficacy, so little removed from the operations 
of natural law, that physicians are expressly enjoined to 
take account of its activity in their "foresight." But in 
two productions of the Hippocratic school war was declared 
* Bk. II. Ch, L 3, jfc 


against all supernaturaHsm with extraordinary energy. 
The first of these passages is to be found in the book 
"On Water, Air, and Sites," which forms one of the 
most remarkable pieces of the Hippocratic collection. We 
are there listening to a man who had trodden the soil of 
South Russia as well as the valley of the Nile, whose 
critical eye had surveyed all sorts and conditions of cir- 
cumstances, and whose thoughtful mind had endeavoured 
to weave the countless details to a uniform and consistent 
design. But his many valuable observations, his many partly 
premature conjectures about the connection between climate 
and health, between the succession of the seasons and the 
course of diseases, these were all surpassed by the undying 
honour that attached to the first attempt to establish a 
causal bond between the characters of nations and their 
physical conditions. We may call the writer of this treatise 
the precursor of Montesquieu, and the founder of national 
psychology. He it was who, in discussing the so-called 
" feminine disease " of the Scythians, uttered an energetic 
protest against the assertion that this or any other Illness 
was the effect of a particular divine visitation; and in 
almost precisely the same words the notion was combated 
afresh in the treatise " On the Sacred Disease," by which 
name epilepsy was designated in popular superstition on 
account of its supposed divine origin. In both cases alike 
the denial of supernatural intervention was accompanied 
by an expression of belief in the strict compatibility of a 
uniform obedience to law in all natural phenomena with 
the religious faith in a divine fountain-head as the ultimate 
source of those phenomena. " Everything is divine and 
everything is human," thus ran the wonderfully suggestive 
formula invented by the author of the work "On the 
Sacred Disease;" and he added that it meant nothing 
more than that it is unreasonable to call one illness more 
divine than another. All alike were caused by the great 
natural agents of heat and cold, and sun and winds, all of 
which were divine in their nature, but no one of which in 
itself was "unfathomable and untractable" or removed 
from human insight and human influence. And a yet 


wider generalization was promulgated in the maxim, " The 
nature and cause of this illness arise from precisely 
the same divine from which all else proceeds " a maxim 
reproduced by the writer of the book '"On Water, Air, 
and Sites " in his statement of belief that " to me, too, these 
complaints appear divine, and all others likewise, since no 
one is more divine or more human than another. Each of 
them possesses nature [z>. a natural cause], and no one of 
them originates without it." The more pugnacious author 
of the work on epilepsy gave vent to discursive and scornful 
attacks on the " windbags and street-corner prophets " who 
undertook to cure diseases by their superstitious practices 
of " purifications and incantations," who " sought to conceal 
their own ignorance and impotence under the mantle of 
the divine," and who might be shown in the clear light of 
day to disbelieve in the truth of their own teaching. This 
last was the sharpest barb in our author's quiver of in- 
vectives : 

" For if these sufferings," he wrote, " could be cured by the purifi- 
cations and the rest of the treatment they recommend, what should 
prevent their creation for the infliction of mankind by other similar 
contrivances ? But then their cause would no longer be divine, but 
human, for the physician who is able to expel a disease by magical 
and purificatory means could introduce it by setting other means at 
work, and then there would be an end of the divine and of its 

The same argument was applied to the whole gamut of 
.proceedings, which rested collectively, as he asserted, on 
the supposition that there were no gods, or that they were 
devoid of power : 

" For if it were true," he wrote, " that a man could fetch down 
the moon and make the sun disappear, could summon the storm, 
and recall fair weather by sacrifices and the black arts, I should 
hold that there were nothing divine in all that, but that it were all 
human, for in such cases the power of the divinity would be 
subdued to the yoke of human intellect." 

This treatise too, we may remark in parenthesis, is 
extremely notable for its reaffirmation of the significance 


of the brain in the physical and especially in the psychical 
life. The discovery had been made by Alcmaeon,* but it 
was used here in its widest extension and with increased 
emphasis. As a physician our author, with his eclectic 
tendencies in philosophy, was not a pure Hippocratic, and 
he was led to this important digression by his discovery, 
which modern science has confirmed, that epilepsy springs 
from a disease of the central organ. 

We might close the present section at this point 
Nothing is lacking to the proof of the contention from 
which we set out that the study of medicine was the 
source of the third great wave of criticism which poured 
its fertilizing stream over the fields of Greek learning. 
The authors of the book " On Old Medicine " and the two 
treatises we have just discussed were as free from every 
taint of mythical thought as Hecatseus or Xenophanes 
as free, or actually freer. Nor were these heralds of the 
dawn content with banishing from their minds every appeal 
to primitive modes of thought They differed from their 
predecessors, who had opened the epoch of transition, in 
not stopping at mere negation. They unlocked the doors 
of their reflection to positive methods of scientific research, 
and took as their guiding star the inspired maxim of 
Kpicharmus, the philosophic playwright of Syracuse : 

'* A sober sense of honest doubt 
Keeps human reason hale and stout." 

Nor was this the limit of their achievement. By their 
theory of the gods, which was compatible with the un- 
trammelled progress of knowledge, they paved the way for 
every conceivable advance ; but they further endeavoured 
to assist the advance themselves by their not inconsider- 
able successes in their special region of inquiry. The 
proportions of the present work do not, unfortunately, 
permit us to bring forward the evidence for this view, but 
we are reluctant to part from the precious collection of 
the Hippocratic writings, which are still so little known 
and appreciated, without offering a few mere proofs of 
* Cp. Bk. I. Ch. V. 5, init. 


the sound scientific spirit which penetrates a considerable 
portion of them. One of the most generous marks of 
that spirit is a respect and appreciation for great thoughts 
which derive their descent from an opposite or hostile 
school, and thus we find the valuable doctrine of the 
necessary' equilibrium between exercise and nourish- 
ment, which was taught by the physicians of Cnidus, 
reappearing in the work "On Diet in Acute Illnesses/* 
though -it opened with a bitter polemic against the chef 
d'ccuvre of that school, "The Cnidian Sentences." The 
author in that instance was as innocent of vain pretensions 
to originality as he was free from the vulgar eagerness for 
cheap and superficial triumphs. He displayed a genuine 
spirit of research in his endeavour to strengthen the doctrine 
which he was combating by fresh and weighty arguments, 
as when he wrote in one place, "my opponent's view will 
be assisted by the following consideration." No less 
sturdy and incorruptible was the instinct for the truth 
evinced by the author of the work " On the Joints," which 
Littr6 characterized as "the great surgical monument of 
antiquity and a model for all future ages." The writer, a 
physician of noble mind and lofty thought, did not 
shrink from recording his own failures for the informa- 
tion of his fellow-investigators. In the immortal language 
in which one such passage was composed, we read, " I 
have written this down deliberately, for it is valuable to 
learn of unsuccessful experiments, and to know the causes 
of their non-success." In that instance he was obviously 
anxious to withhold no means to knowledge from the 
service of those who came after him ; and in another he 
exceeded the wonted limits of didactic writing on account 
of his desire to protect the patient from any burden that 
could possibly be avoided : 

<c It may be urged," he wrote, " that such questions lie outside 
the precincts of medicine* for what profit is there in a further study 
of cases that have already become incurable ? Such arguments, I 
answer, are very wide of the mark. In curable cases all pains 
must be used to prevent their becoming incurable j but incurable 


cases must be recognized as such, in order to save the sick man 
from useless maltreatment." 

Nor was he otherwise disposed to spare his own exertions. 
He had the joy of work which is a true mark of genius. 
In this way he extended anatomical research from the 
human to the animal creation ; he compared the structure 
of the human skeleton with that of other vertebrate 
animals, and two passages in his work speak so eloquently 
of the grandeur of this attempt that we do not hesitate to 
entitle him an early if not the earliest pioneer of compara- 
tive anatomy. But we conclude by citing an important 
generalization due to the same powerful intellect, the 
brilliancy of which is testified by the wide range that it 
described, by the evidence, constantly increasing, of the 
truth of its contents, and by the deep significance of its 
consequences. We refer to the maxim touching the 
necessity of function for the preservation of health in an 

" All parts of the body," he wrote, " which are designed for a 
definite use are kept in health, and in the enjoyment of fair growth 
and of long youth, by the fulfilment of that use, and by their appro- 
priate exercise in the employment to which they are accustomed. 
But when they are disused they grow ill and stunted, and become 
prematurely old." 



i. AT an early date rumour was busily engaged in spinning 
threads of intercourse between "the father of medicine" 
and the man whom we may call the father of physics. 
The worthy citizens of Abdera had been alarmed by the 
strange conduct of their great countryman Democritus, so 
they summoned the master of the art of healing to examine 
his mental condition. The master came, convinced them 
of their error, and enjoyed an instructive intercourse with 
the sage, which was presently continued by letter. Their 
correspondence formed a romance in letters, which the 
Hippocratic collection has preserved to us, and which 
may to a certain extent be the mirror of genuine facts. 
It is at least in the highest degree probable that two 
philosophers born in the same year 460 B.C. and both 
of them great travellers, should have been brought Into 
personal contact. It is clear, too, that Hippocrates was 
actually at one time in Abdera. We are still able to 
accompany him on his round of professional visits that 
took him by turns to the Thracian Gate, the Sacred Way, 
and the High Street. And thus there may be an element 
of truth in the legendary picture of the hoase and garden 
in the shadow of a tower of the city wall, with the 
umbrageous plane-tree beneath whose spreading foliage 
the great sage of Abdera used to sit and write with his 
knee for a table, surrounded by his scrolls and by the 
anatomical specimens at which he was at work. 

The wealthy commercial colony of Abdera had been 


founded by lonians. It was situated opposite the island 
of Thasos, in the neighbourhood of lucrative gold-mines 
on the borders of Thrace and Macedonia, and it played 
a short but exceptionally brilliant part in the history of 
Greek learning. It is associated with the name of 
Leucippus, the friend and teacher of Democritus, who 
was older than his pupil by a score or so of years. For, 
though the master was probably born at Miletus, and 
enjoyed instruction, according to trustworthy evidence, 
at Elea, under the sharp-witted Zeno, yet he certainly 
died in the city of Abdera, and founded there the school 
to which his disciple Democritus lent imperishable fame. 
The figure of the teacher has been dwarfed by the giant 
proportions of the pupil, and his few literary remains were 
included in the comprehensive collection of the works of 
Democritus. Even in antiquity, his personality and the 
more intimate circumstances of his life were so little 
known, that doubts were even expressed as to his 
historical reality. Still, we may assert, on the evidence 
of few witnesses but fit, that Leucippus devised the plan 
of the building which Democritus completed, adorning it 
with an inexhaustible wealth of facts based on experience, 
and composing it with a literary art which made him 
a master of Greek prose. To Leucippus we owe the 
sentence in which the universal rule of causation was 
proclaimed in unequivocal language: " Nothing happens 
without a cause, but everything with a cause and by 
necessity." His book, " On the Order of the Universe," 
which, to distinguish it from the smaller compendium on 
the same subject by Democritus, was known as " The Great 
Order of the Universe," contained the essence of atomic 
physics, and his treatise " On the Mind," doubtless sup- 
plied the outline of the psychology of the school. Time 
has robbed us of the privilege of considering apart the 
intellectual legacies of these two men. We are therefore 
compelled to renounce such distinctions, and to discuss 
the atomic theory as a whole. But we may pause at the 
outset, to glance at the personal characteristics of its 
younger and far more famous representative. 


We possess some valuable material for this purpose, 
and our first evidence may be taken down at the lips of 
Democritus himself. 

"I am the most travelled/' he wrote, " of all my contemporaries; 
I have extended my field of inquiry wider than any one else ; I have 
seen more countries and climes, and have heard more speeches 
of learned men. No one has surpassed me in the composition of 
lines accompanied by demonstration, not even the Egyptian 
knotters of ropes, or geometers." 

The emphasis that was laid here on the mere scope of 
his culture and achievements is in full accord with our 
conception of the man in whom we recognize less of the 
initiative faculty of invention than of the erudition that 
continues and expands it. Nor should we be repelled by 
the boastful tone that is taken. Lessing said, with a very 
slight exaggeration, that " politeness was a thing unknown 
to the ancients," and his saying might be transferred to 
modesty with even better right. Besides the example before 
us, the instance of Empedocles will be fresh in our readers' 
memory, and there is, further, the case of Thucydides, whose 
cooler judgment weighed his words more carefully, and who 
yet did not hesitate to entitle his history " a possession for 
all time." Moreover, Plato himself, who eclipses himself 
in his Dialogues so completely behind Socrates his master, 
felt no constraint in quoting a verse in which he and his 
brothers were described as " the god-like issue of a glorious 
father." Another circumstance, too, should be taken in 
account in considering the self-praise of Democritus. He 
appears as long as he lived to have enjoyed a purely local 
reputation. " I came to Athens, and no one knew me," so 
runs a second fragment of autobiography, and it may well 
have been his resentment at finding himself still unknown 
.in the capital of the Greek intellect, despite his enormous 
exertions and achievements, that induced him to blow his 
own trumpet. Be that as it may, his fame was at least 
well earned. He had trodden with equal vigour all the 
paths of learning, from mathematics and physics to ethics 
and poetics. His writings were almost innumerable, and 


we may quote the testimony of Aristotle to the intellec- 
tual value of their contents. That most competent and 
impartial critic did not hesitate to declare of Democritus 
that no one before him had " dealt with growth and change 
except in the most superficial way." In this connection he 
spoke of him as a man who seemed " to have thought about 
everything." And not his piety towards his master Plato, 
not the deep gulf of dissent that divided him from the 
atomists, prevented him from crowning Democritus and 
Leucippus at the expense of Plato with an incomparable 
crown of eulogy. Their theory of nature, too such is the 
drift of his remarks was marred by great defects, but it 
was based on an hypothesis ripe with valuable conclusions. 
The following was the difference to be noted. The habit 
of natural observation induced the faculty of building 
hypotheses to connect long series of facts with one another. 
That faculty was diminished by predominant intercourse 
with mere concepts which alienates us from reality, contracts 
our vision on a narrow circle of facts, and leads us through 
such straits of observation to the formation of inadequate 

2. With that "hypothesis" we are now concerned. 
Its non-hypothetical basis, however, must be our first con- 
sideration. It belongs to the theory of knowledge and to 
the attempt to solve the problem of matter. We left that 
problem in a parlous condition in the hands of Anaxa- 
goras, and have lost sight of it since then. It was torn 
asunder by claims of equal weight which were at once 
unreconciled and irreconcilable.* One of two courses 
was open to it to renounce either qualitative constancy 
or the internal inter-dependence of substances. The 
alternative left was between one or very few elements of 
desultorily changing qualities and numberless primary 
substances foreign to 'one another and with no kind of 
bond of relationship, nor was there any other choice. 
We have already remarked by anticipation that the 
school of Abdera came to the rescue here, and put an 
end to that fatal dilemma.* The glory of the act, as 
* Cp. Bk, II. Ch. IV. 4- 


Aristotle leads us to believe, belongs to the mind of Leu- 
cippus, but we know the epoch-making theory only in the 
form in which it was clothed by Democritus. " According 
to convention/' he said, " there are a sweet and a bitter, a 
hot and a cold, and according to convention there is colour. 
In truth there are atoms and a void." Let us first leave 
the atoms and the vacuum out of account, and then turn 
to the significant negative portion of the passage. We say 
"the negative portion," because the stress laid on what 
exists in truth can imply nothing else than that the first- 
named qualities, temperature, colour, and taste, and, let 
us add, smell and sound, are denied objective truth. In 
this connection the expression "according to conven- 
tion " requires a few words to make it clear. The contrast 
between nature and convention was familiar to the intel- 
lectual life of that age. Men's conventions their habits, 
customs, and lawschanging and varying from city to 
city, from country to country, and from generation to 
generation, were then a favourite type of contrast with the 
unchangeableness of nature. Thus convention became as it 
were the symbol of the changeable, the arbitrary, and the 
accidental. With respect to the perceptions of the senses, 
there were numerous observations at the disposal of Demo- 
critus to convince him of their dependence on the 
respective constitutions of individuals, on the variations 
in the conditions of the same individual, and, finally, 
on the multifarious forms assumed by the same particles 
of matter. Thus a jaundiced subject feels a bitter taste 
in honey, the degree of cold or heat in air or water 
is determined by whether or not we ourselves are warm, 
many minerals display different colours before and after 
pulverization, and so forth through countless examples. 
We who command the resources of a modern vocabulary 
have learnt to express these differences in more appropriate 
language. We distinguish between relative and absolute 
qualities, between subjective and objective truth. Our 
analysis has struck deeper roots. It has discovered at least 
a subjective element in the so-called objective or primary 
ciualities of thines, and, on the other hand, it has left us no 


shadow of doubt that the production of the infinite varieties 
of subjective impressions is not an anarchical process, but 
is indissolubly bound by strict laws of causation. The 
discovery of that subjective element in the objective qualities 
of things will occupy us at a later period, when we reach 
the so-called Cyrenaic philosophers, of whom Berkeley 
and Hume were the intellectual heirs, and we shall 
presently see that Democritus, no less than his modern 
successors, Thomas Hobbes or John Locke, was familiar 
with the second of these discoveries. Nay, even the 
indefeasible validity of the law of causation as taught by 
Leucippus admitted no exception whatsoever. On the 
present occasion, however, Democritus was merely 
concerned to give utterance as emphatically and un- 
reservedly as possible to a novel truth of fundamental 
importance. A striking parallel is supplied by the 
manner in which another and perhaps yet greater thinker 
seized and expressed the same fundamental principle. The 
following words, in which it might be erroneous to trace 
the influence of Democritus, occur in the polemic entitled, 
" The Assayer," and written * by Galileo Galilei : 

" If I represent a material or bodily substance to myself, I 
cannot but represent it as bounded by limits and as possessed of 
this or that shape, . . . situated in this or that spot, . . . as at rest 
or in motion, as touched or not touched by another body," and so 
forth. At the same time he was equally convinced " that those 
tastes, smells, colours, etc., in relation to the object in which they 
appear to reside are nothing but mere names (nonsieno altro chepuri 

Across the twenty-two centuries that stretched between 
these giants of thought Democritus and Galilei were both 
fully aware that the so-called secondary qualities of things 
were more than mere arbitrary assumptions, conventional 
opinions, or appellations. Still, their agreement was not 
confined to the promulgation of that highly important 
distinction. They agreed, too, in proclaiming it in a manner 

* 1623 A.D. 


which was eminently liable to produce a false and mis- 
leading impression, so far, at least, as it was not corrected 
by other of their own utterances. And seldom or never, 
we may add, have new fundamental truths made their 
entry in the world, or even in the minds of their inventors, 
in a less objectionable form. 

But it is full time to pass from the outward shape of 
the doctrine to the more interesting consideration of its 
intrinsic meaning. Its appearance meant the disappear- 
ance of the stumbling-block at which investigation had 
halted so long. The maturity of research had arrived 
and it was no longer a matter of vexation that the leaf 
which was green to-day should be yellow to-morrow and 
brown the day after. The old obstacles were removed 
from the path of the inquirer, and he saw with indifference 
that the blossom faded and that its fragrance departed, or 
that the savour of fruit was turned to gall when it began 
to rot. Moreover, Zeno's paradox of the grain of millet 
lost its point and perplexed no one any more, for all these 
qualities of things were divested of their objective validity, 
and were expelled from the realm of reality. Here, we 
may remark in parenthesis, we perceive a clue to the 
possibility that Leucippus had received from Zeno the 
impulse that led to his solution of the problem of matter. 
But be that as it may, a true, solid, unchangeable object 
of cognition in the corporeal world had at last been 
gained, and persistent matter stood out as the genuine 
reality in opposition to the volatile and variable qualities 
of sensation which we call secondary, and which are not 
properly the attributes of objects. The individual bodies, 
as the constituent parts of such matter, were distin- 
guished from one another by their sizes and shapes alone, 
inclusive of their degree of capacity, determined by the 
size and shape, to exert an effect on other bodies by impact 
and pressure. 

These fundamental differences of bodies have been ex- 
pressed more clearly by Democritus with respect, too, to their 
reciprocal relations. He drew the following distinctions, 
which he stamped with particular technical terms. Thus 


there were (i) the shape, Including size, we may add ; (2) the 
arrangement ; and (3) the position of bodies. When Aris- 
totle took up the theme, he visualized these three concep- 
tions by examples which he borrowed from the shapes 
of the letters in the Greek alphabet. The difference of 
shape he illustrated by the opposition of A and N ; 
that of arrangement, which Democritus called "contact," 
by the double symbol of AN and NA ; and that of position, 
which Democritus called "turning," by the conversion of 
N to Z. It must be remarked, however, that Democritus 
was not considering the great material structures which rise 
into the sphere of visibility and were spoken of by him as 
" apparent to the eye ; " he had in view rather the minutest 
constituent parts of those structures, which were no longer 
perceptible, but were merely to be inferred under the names 
of "atoms," or "indivisibles." It may be asked how he 
and Leucippus reached their assumption of atoms and 
their peculiar employment of the conception of a vacuum ; 
nor can this question be answered without reminding the 
reader of some part of their former knowledge. For here, 
as elsewhere, their theory was the sum of the labours of 
their predecessors. Atomism, we may state with all pos- 
sible emphasis, was the ripe fruit on the tree of the old 
doctrine of matter which had been tended by the Ionian 

We revert, then, to the Ionian schools. When Anaxi- 
menes explained the changes in the form of his primary 
matter by condensation and rarefaction, when he taught 
that its fundamental form proceeded intact from each suc- 
cessive variation, the thought must plainly have dawned 
on him that minute imperceptible particles were there at 
work, now coming closer together and now departing from 
one another.* Again, when Heraclitus proclaimed his 
doctrine of the ceaseless transformation of things, and 
declared the uninjured existence of an individual object 
to be a mere delusion brought about by the constant 
accession of fresh particles in the place of those that had 
been severed, he was obviously assuming the presence of 
* Bk. I. Ch. I. $ 4. 


invisible parts of matter as well as of their invisible move- 
ments.* And finally, when Anaxagoras complained of the 
"weakness" of our senses, when he combined in every 
corporeal structure an infinite number of " seeds " or of the 
minutest primary particles, and made the appearance of the 
structure depend on the predominance of one sort of those 
particles,t he was stating in unambiguous words the very 
doctrine which inference alone enables us to attribute to his 
two predecessors. Nor, indeed, do we feel the remotest 
surprise at the early appearance of beliefs which must have 
been induced every day and all day by common observa- 
tion. Take, for instance, the example of a piece of linen or 
cloth which has been soaked by the rain and dried by the 
returning sun ; the watery particles with which it was 
drenched have taken their departure, though no eye saw 
them departing. Or take the example of a scent-bottle 
which has perfumed the room in which it is kept, though no 
one has seen the particles that convey the fragrance distribu- 
ting themselves through the room, while its contents have 
nevertheless been gradually diminished. These experiences 
and others of equally frequent occurrence secured the admis- 
sion of invisible ways or paths besides the invisible particles 
and movements, breaking through the apparently uninter- 
rupted consistency of bodies. We would further remind 
our readers that the kindred conception of vacant spaces 
emptied of matter, which was probably due to the Pytha- 
goreans, had already been known to Parmenides, and had 
formed an objective of his energetic attack.J 

These two agents, invisible moving particles and 
invisible vacant interstices, comprised, as it were, the raw 
material for the atomistic theory. It derived its form 
and shape from two ideal factors. We refer to the twin 
postulates of matter which we have already discussed to 
satiety, and which we may claim with equal right as the 
contribution of the philosophers of Ionia. Parmenides was 
indeed the first to have moulded them to a definite 
shape, but the postulate of quantitative constancy was 

* Bk. L Ch. I. 5. f Bk. II. Ch. IV. 2. 

t Bk. II. Ch. II. 4, and cp. 5 below. 


the key to the whole doctrine of primary matter, and had 
originated and controlled all the attempts at moulding this 
doctrine from Thales downwards. With regard to the second 
postulate of qualitative constancy, we have already dis- 
covered its earliest traces in Anaximenes ; next, we saw it 
developed to its full extent in Anaxagoras, who agreed with 
the Eleatics in no other point, and was diametrically opposed 
to them on every important question, whereas Empedocles, 
who was demonstrably a disciple of the school of Parme- 
nides, laid far less stress on that postulate, and employed 
it in a far less perfect form. When we reach Leucippus 
we find that he clung with the utmost rigour to both these 
postulates, the fulfilment of which was correctly conceived 
as the indispensable condition of the steady process of 
nature in the kingdom of corporeal existence. Still, the 
rigour displayed by Leucippus did not mislead him either 
to deny nature like Parmenides or to do violence to her 
like Anaxagoras. We may reserve our opinion as to 
whether or not he was aware that even these most important 
postulates are at bottom nothing but questions addressed 
to nature by the inquirer ; nor are we certain that he sup- 
ported the new doctrine merely by sound conclusions drawn 
from empiric facts. For we cannot neglect the temptation 
that besets many great discoverers. They are not content 
to build their most splendid achievements on the only trust- 
worthy foundation of knowledge experience ; they prefer 
to try to increase their certainty by resting them on pre- 
tended necessities of thought. Something of this kind might 
not unreasonably be expected from the pupil of Zeno the 
metaphysician. But be that as it may and we shall revert 
to it later the one decisive factor is still lacking to com- 
plete our account of the origin of the atomic theory. We 
have marked the conceptions of the indestructibility and 
unchangeableness of matter contained in its twin postulates, 
and we have now to add a physical insight of the utmost 
value. We refer to the recognition of the impenetrability 
of matter. Experiments of the kind, one of which we saw 
attempted by Anaxagoras,* must have led to_the promotion 
* Bk. II. Ch. IV. i /. 



of this quality as a universal attribute of substances. The 
resistance offered to every attempt at compression by the 
air contained in the inflated bag selected as an example 
by Anaxagoras must have led to the perception of a pal- 
pable and rapidly increasing resistance. And with that 
perception a fresh difficulty arose. It was a difficulty which 
could not have arisen as long as the homogeneous character 
of the material world, so far from being known, was obscured 
and disguised by the difference of the states of aggregation. 
When the air is at rest, or nearly so, no obstacle worth 
mentioning, certainly no impassable obstacle, opposes the 
movement of our body. But then came experiments of 
the kind tried by Anaxagoras, to which may be added the 
test applied by Empedocles to confirm the pressure of the 
atmosphere and the theories of matter resting doubtless 
on kindred observations, especially that of Anaximenes, 
which deprived the difference in the states of aggregation 
of its fundamental significance. With these facts and 
doctrines that difficulty could no longer be overlooked. 
It was no longer feasible to doubt that one was dealing 
with impenetrable matter, whether air, or water, or solid 
bodies, and the question necessarily arose How was 
movement within that region possible at all? Other 
questions suggested themselves as the corollaries of this 
problem. Whence came, it was asked, the remarkable differ- 
ences of resistance offered to one and the same movement 
in different media ? How did it happen that a flying arrow 
met with no noticeable opposition from the air, but was 
impassably resisted by a rock ? At this point the theory 
of a vacuum, wliich, as we have seen, was not wholly new, 
afforded a welcome outlet to the bewilderment of thought. 
The material world, it was argued, was not continuous ; 
rather it consisted of separate impenetrable nuclei divided 
from one another by empty penetrable interstices. Inas- 
much and in so far as one impenetrable nucleus could give 
way to another, therefore, and to that extent, motion 
was possible. And such motion would take place with 
case or difficulty or not at all, according as the constitution 
and the distances of such nuclei rendered it easy, difficult, 


or impossible for one to give way to another. Those atoms 
or units of matter were actually inseparable, though not 
ideally indivisible or unextended in space. Their minute- 
ness caused them to escape observation, and it was their 
indestructibility, unchangeableness, and impenetrability 
which really invested matter with those qualities. The 
complex was the aggregate of its simple parts, and the 
shape and size of the primary particles gave the key to 
the attributes of the composite body. 

3. Words fail us to express the value and importance 
of this great doctrine. We must begin by speaking of the 
services which the theory was calculated to render, and 
which it actually has rendered, to the cause of modern 
science. It will then be time enough to consider the im- 
perfections of its oldest form and of its earliest employ- 
ment. It explains spatial movement of every kind. It 
makes it compatible with the impenetrability of matter, 
and it unravels the processes of motion In every sort and 
degree, whether they are enacted in universal space or in 
a drop of water. Its clear light is shed on the differences 
of the three states of aggregation. The same groups of 
atoms or molecules of a fluid are contracted under the 
influence of cold, and coalesce in a solid body ; they are 
segregated under the influence of heat and volatilized in 
a gas. Nothing but the external and superficial appear- 
ance contradicts any more the indestructibility of matter. 
The growth of an apparently new material structure is 
revealed as the union of a hitherto distributed complexus 
of atoms, its decay as the separation of a complexus 
hitherto united. We advance from the mechanics of masses 
the relations of movement and equilibrium in com- 
prehensive groups of atoms to the mechanics of atoms 
and of the groups immediately superior to them, the 
minutest atomic combinations, or the molecules with which 
chemistry deals. The proportions of weight and volume 
in such a combination of several substances would often 
be numerous, but would never show arbitrary variations, 
and this fact of their fixed recurrence is explained by 
modern science by the theory of equivalents, or atomic 


weights, which meant that a fixed number of atoms of one 
kind entered in combination with a fixed number of atoms 
of another kind or of several other kinds. The qualities of 
sense in a body, and in part its physical attributes, are 
necessarily dependent on the relations of position and the 
conditions of movement in its minutest parts. Nothing, 
then, would be more natural than a change of colour, for 
instance, in the same collection of similar atoms according 
to the disposition of the atomic groups or molecules. Thus 
by allotropy common phosphorus is yellow and amorphous 
phosphorus is red. The same observation holds good of 
chemical combinations. By the law of isomery the qualities 
vary according to the structure of the compound though 
the same atoms be mixed in precisely the same proportions. 
" According to the manner in which the atoms are disposed," 
we may add, in the words of Fechner, "the object will 
assume different qualities in different directions (differences 
of expansion, foliation, hardness, and so forth)/' But the 
atomic theory applied to chemistry is not as simple as it 
sounds. The relation of the qualities of a compound to 
those of its constituent parts can never be quite perspicuous. 
Deep-going changes take place at the entry of substances 
into a chemical combination. They are condensed, for 
instance, or their latent heat is released, or some other 
result is effected with all the consequences it entails. We 
have no right, therefore, to expect that the qualities of the 
compound will be the sum of those of its ingredients, and 
neither more nor less. John Stuart Mill, for example, was 
not the only great thinker who has been startled into 
questioning the perfectibility of chemistry by such facts as 
that the qualities of water are not merely the total of those 
of oxygen and hydrogen, nor the colour of blue sulphate 
of copper a mere mixture of the colours of sulphuric acid 
and copper. These facts, however, as we have just shown 
reason to believe, by no means contradict the view that 
the atoms in a compound remain precisely the same as 
they were before they entered it, and as they will be after 
they emerge from it Even now direct proof can be offered 
of the continuous unchanged condition of some of their 


qualities, and recent science has begun to smooth the way 
for the accumulation of fresh evidence of that kind, as well 
as for the more comprehensive illustration of the causal 
dependence of the qualities of a compound on those of 
their constituents. Thus the specific heat of elements 
persists in their combinations, the power of carbon to 
refract light is maintained in carbon compounds, and other 
proofs of the connection between the qualities of a compound 
and those of its parts are constantly coming to light. We 
should add that it is occasionally possible to foretell the 
qualities of a compound not yet experimentally produced. 
Without multiplying this evidence, enough will have been 
said to show that chemistry, resting as it does wholly on 
the atomic theory, approximates more and more closely to 
that stage of perfection in which deduction or inference 
replaces the crude method of empiricism. Quite recently, 
indeed, it has succeeded in deriving physical qualities of 
elements, such as their extensibility, fusibility, and volatility, 
from the weight and volume of the respective atoms ; and 
even in rivalling the astounding feats of astronomy, by 
foretelling the existence and the nature of elements, and 
in subsequently confirming its predictions by actual dis- 
covery. Here, then, we pause. We have seen enough of 
the record of the atomic theory to appreciate Cournot's 
dictum to the full measure of its truth : " None of the ideas 
that antiquity has bequeathed to us has had a greater or 
even a similar success." Nor is the modern atomic theory 
a mere sister-doctrine to that of Leucippus and Democritus : 
it is rather its direct descendant, flesh of its flesh and 
bone of its bone. It is difficult to determine how far 
Galilei, the founder of modern natural science,* who was 
certainly acquainted with the teachings of Democritus, was 
influenced by them, and how far he thought out anew for 
himself some of their fundamental principles. But we 
know that Ren6 Descartes t was obliged to meet the reproach 
that that portion of his theory was nothing but a " patch- 
work of tags from Democritus," and Pierre Gassendi^ the 
French dean and prebendary, who finally introduced the 
* Born 1564. t Born 1596, J Born 1592. 


atomic theory in modern physics, was directly inspired by 
the study of the teachings, writings, and the life of 
Epicurus, who walked in the footsteps of Leucippus and 
Democritus, and contributed very materially to their 
better understanding and appreciation. 

The atomic theory looks back on a long and eventful 
history, which has lately been narrated in a manner as 
pleasant as it is thoughtful, though, unfortunately, the 
narrative does not take account of the rudiments of the 
doctrine. It is not our intention to discuss its changes 
and transformations, nor yet the objections that have been 
levelled at it by the so-called dynamic philosophers. We 
shall confine our attention to a few of the chief differences 
between ancient and modern atomism. Contemporary 
physics no longer admit the conception of a vacuum. 
Ether has taken its place, and the assumption has shown 
itself of far greater service in the explanation of natural 
processes. But in the decisive point before us both 
conceptions are found completely to coincide. Ether, no 
less than the vacuum, is absolutely penetrable, since abso- 
lute elasticity is ascribed to it ; the impenetrable substances 
are imbedded in it, as it were ; it surrounds them and 
encloses them. A second distinction with still more 
important consequences is the following. The chemistry 
of our day does its work with seventy-odd elements, and 
modern chemists believe especially since the discovery of 
"the natural series" of the elements that their number 
will be considerably diminished in the future, and that the 
whole collection will in all probability ultimately be reduced 
to a single primary element. Leucippus, on the contrary, 
had felt himself compelled to assume an infinite variety 
of the atoms in respect to their size and shape, though 
in no other relation. His hypothesis accordingly proved 
more serviceable than it appeared in the conception of 
its author, and this is not his least title to renown. The 
number of qualitative differences due merely to variations 
in the number and disposition of the atoms combined 
on each occasion in one structure was proved incalculably 
larger than was dreamed of by Leucippus and Democritus. 


Alcohol and sugar, for example, are so distinct in appear- 
ance and effect that no one could ever have conjectured that 
both are compounded out of the same three kinds of atoms 
merely in different proportions. Muscarine, again, is a deadly 
poison, and neurine Is a substance to be found in all animal 
and vegetable cells, and yet the one differs from the other 
merely by a single atom's weight of oxygen. These and 
similar facts were as foreign to them as that the inexhausti- 
ble multiplicity of organic structures Is for the most part to 
be referred to four different kinds of atoms in their various 
proportions and dispositions. The question leaps to the 
lips, why, in that case, those atomists were not satisfied 
with a more modest hypothesis ; and it is reasonable to 
reply that their exaggeration was a kind of reaction against 
the popular and unscientific conception of the material 
world, and, further, in the instance of Democritus, against 
the doctrine of matter associated with the name of 
Anaxagoras. " There is no need," cried the authors of the 
new theory to their opponents, "there is no need of your 
assumption of innumerable qualitative differences ; not a 
single such difference need really be assumed. Differ- 
ences in the size and shape of the primary substance 
are in themselves completely adequate to explain the 
inexhaustible multitude of the differences of phenomena." 
With this declaration an immense step was taken towards 
simplifying fundamental hypotheses. At a single blow 
the lavishness of nature had been checked on the qualita- 
tive side. Was she also to be impelled to thrift on the 
quantitative side ? At first there was no necessity for this 
measure. The whole object of the founders of the doctrine 
was to adapt the new hypothesis to the most ambitious 
and even to exaggerated demands, and it was surely not 
too much to expect that nature would display in this im- 
portant instance the same wealth and lavishness which she 
showed in other respects. Measure and limit would only 
be imposed by the gradual growth of positive knowledge. 
Moreover, though the theory of Democritus recognized 
isolated instances of double atoms, yet in general it 
excluded the conception of groups of atoms or molecules* 


The atom itself had to fulfil the task that is performed in 
modern science by the molecule, and its richer variety was 
an obvious condition. We do not dispute that this part 
of the hypothetical structure may have been equipped with 
too generous a hand, but we would urge that at least the 
wealth was not squandered, but was applied in the most 
lucrative manner possible. All physical differences of 
simple substances were referred without any exception to 
those differences of size and shape. Democritus felt him- 
self on sure enough ground to dispense with any other 
assumption of distinctions. It is true that we are in- 
sufficiently informed on some points important to this 
inquiry. But we are acquainted with his explanation of 
specific gravity, which he derived entirely from the greater 
or less density of the material structure. If of two bodies 
with the same volume one were lighter than the other, the' 
one would contain a larger vacuum than the other. Here, 
however, a difficulty arose. According to the premise the 
hardness of the body would likewise have to increase and 
decrease with its density, and with its density alone. And 
some explanation was required for instances where the hard- 
ness and the specific gravity did not go together. Thus 
iron, for instance, is harder than lead, but lead is heavier 
than iron. A further ingenious expedient here came to 
the philosopher's aid. He accounted for this contradiction 
by fixing the responsibility on a difference in the dis- 
tribution of the vacuum. A piece of lead, Democritus 
contended, contained more body and less vacuum than a 
piece of iron of the same size, otherwise its weight could not 
be greater. But the distribution of the vacuum in the lead 
must, he argued, be more equable, the solid matter must be 
interrupted by more numerous though by smaller empty 
interstices, otherwise its hardness could not be less. 

4. We have no exact information as to which bodies in 
the theory of Democritus were simple and which were 
complex. The rays of enlightenment break through at 
two points only of what we may -term his physiology of 
the senses. In the light of those rays, we may assert with 
confidence at least one negative conclusion. The infinite 


multiplicity which he recognized in the sizes and shapes of 
atoms did not arise from his incompetence to perceive or 
to conjecture a complex in an apparently simple body. 
Thus his eminently noteworthy theory of colours, which, 
parenthetically remarked, is in dire need of fresh expert 
treatment, started from the assumption of four primary 
colours white, black, red, and green. These, with the 
exception of green, which had taken the place of yellow, 
were likewise the primary colours in the scheme of Em- 
pedocles. All other colours were designated as mixed, 
and we see that all the numerous bodies which were not 
equipped with one of the four primary colours must have 
been of a composite nature. That is to say, they must 
have included other than merely homogeneous elementary 
particles. Passing to Democritus* attempt to explain 
the difference in the impressions of taste, we find that it 
was based in principle on the differences in the shape, and 
secondarily on those of the size of the atoms contained in 
the respective substances. Pungency he derived from 
sharp or pointed particles of matter, sweetness from the 
rounded form of moderately big particular atoms, and the 
same doctrine was applied to tartness, saltness, bitterness, 
and all other impressions of the palate. First, let us 
advert to these explanatory attempts, based on mere 
vague resemblances between impressions of taste and 
touch. That they were fallacious is beyond dispute, and 
their clumsiness may excite our surprise. But our readers 
may be inclined to temper their justice with mercy if 
they recollect that practically the same theories of the 
differences of taste as depending on the differences in the 
shapes of particular atoms were current in the eighteenth 
century, and enjoyed a well-nigh unchallenged authority, 
as we learn from Alexander von Humboldt's "Essay 
on the stimulated nervous and muscular fibre/' The 
point on which our interest is concentrated, however, 
is rather the relation of those theories to the doctrine of 
simple and complex substances. The statements about 
the atomic forms underlying the several tastes give rise at 
first to the impression that each of the countless "juices" 


or materials of taste Is composed of homogeneous atoms 
possessing the size and shape required for the purpose. 
But this, we plainly perceive, was not the opinion of 
Democritus. His own view of the mixed colours cries 
against it. The homogeneity of the atoms was admissible 
in the case of white salt, but it was not admissible in 
that of yellow-gold honey or of brownish-yellow human 
bile. It is true that he must have referred the sweetness 
of the one and the bitterness of the other to the presence 
of the atomic forms by which those impressions were 
produced. But yellow and brown were mixed colours 
in his theory, and he must accordingly have inferred that 
honey and bile alike contained atoms of other forms as 
well. The true meaning of those statements should there- 
fore be expressed as follows : In all substances of mixed 
colours at least the kind of atoms which lends them their 
specific taste is merely the predominant and preponderant 
kind, and without wasting more words on this subject, 
Theophrastus, who is our best authority for Democritus' 
theory of sensation, relates that this doctrine was expressly 
taught by him. 

We pass from individual atoms to atomic groups. 
These were regarded by Democritus as combinations or 
concatenations, in the literal sense of that word. Their 
contact in his eyes was the result of their being linked or 
"hooked" together, and the infinite variety of shapes 
which the atoms possessed in the theory of Democritus 
helped him to account for such processes. He drew in- 
structive distinctions between the gregarious capacities of 
his atoms. Some were unsociable particles, affording no 
handle for combination except by enclosing them in a 
shell ; others were supplied with hooks and eyes, with 
balls and sockets, with involuted edges, with mortice and 
dovetail, or with some other of the countless means of 
rendering them attachable, some at one and others at two 
points. This last distinction, with certain similar differences, 
was presumably intended to account for the greater or less 
degree of mobility in the particular atoms, their faster or 
looser combination, and for the corresponding nature of 


the complex body in each instance. The last echo of 
this mode of explaining chemical/combinations was heard 
in Descartes and Huyghens, and since then its voice has 
grown unfamiliar. But at the same time we should 
remember that the conceptions of chemical affinity which 
have partially replaced this crude mechanical view are 
equally inadequate to their task ; that they enjoy their 
existence as mere conveniences of expression, as plausible 
fictions, or, to quote a modern chemical philosopher, as 
phrases "in the room of a clear conception." We may 
further remark that contemporary science is more and 
more under the sway of the doctrine of contact albeit 
through the medium of ether instead of that of attraction, 
to explain the union of particles, a revolution of thought 
which may be traced to Huyghens' important " Discourse 
on the Cause of Gravity" (1690). But, despite these con- 
siderations, we might still apostrophize Democritus in 
Pascal's dictum anent the Cartesian theory of matter: 
" Roughly we may say that this happens through shape 
and motion, but to presume these and to set the machine 
at work . . , that is uncertain, useless, and idle trouble." 

Let us now see how out of the infinitesimally small arose 
the infinitely great The atoms fit for combination flit 
about in empty space and occasionally meet one another. 
They are woven to larger wholes till they gradually form a 
shell which encloses and imprisons the hosts of free, errant 
atoms, and thus, severing themselves from the infinite 
vacuum, they finally become a separate world or cosmos, of 
which there are infinitely many. These are constructed 
where all the conditions favourable to their growth are 
found, and they are destroyed and revert to their constituent 
parts as soon as the conditions cease to be favourable. But 
for a cosmos such as that familiar to our experience the 
presence of enormous atomic groups and their combination 
on the largest scale do not suffice ; the discrimination of 
the substances on an equal scale is also requisite. No 
mere conglomeration of vagabond atoms, but a collection 
of groups of matter few in number but wholly or nearly 
homogeneous, is the spectacle that meets our eyes heaven 


\j j 

and earth, and the wide expanse of ocean. The old riddle 
was set to the atomists, and they found a new, though not 
a completely new, answer. Empedocles had constructed the 
universe by the attraction of like to like, and his solution 
was now revived, though in a somewhat altered form. For 
Democritus also recognized a regulative principle in the 
universe in the endeavour of like substances to consort with 
like. But he did not dismiss it as inaccessible to explana- 
tion or as an ultimate fact requiring none. He sought to 
understand it and to discover its cause ; and, seeing that 
the problem was material, he looked for a physical or a 
mechanical cause. He saw homogeneous substances collected 
together in groups ; one particle of earth lay next to another, 
one drop of water found a sister-drop, and these observations 
ranged themselves in his mind with the fact that the atoms 
or atomic groups which determined the qualities of earth, 
water, and so forth, had once been united and agglomerated 
in immense masses. Thus he found himself confronted 
with a problem which he was at pains to solve. His 
solution may be expressed in axiomatic language as 
follows : Particles of equal size and shape have an equal 
power of reaction, and particles of different sizes and 
shapes have a relatively different power of reaction. 
Reflecting on the great processes which have lent our 
world its present appearance, Democritus recalled the 
effects produced by the winnowing-fan or by the tide 
breaking on the seashore. The heterogeneous grains 
swung to and fro by the farmer with the winnowing-fan 
in his hand would be sifted and separated owing, in the 
opinion of Democritus, to the consequent current of air, 
" Lentils lie next to lentils, barley to barley, and wheat to 
wheat." And a similar effect was to be remarked on the 
seashore, where "the movement of the waves flung long 
stones next to long stones, and round pebbles next to 
round pebbles." 

The vortex of atoms played in cosmic processes the 
part of the winnowing-fan and the tide. The sidewise 
contact of moving chains of atoms in any part of space 
produced a rotatory or whirling movement which affected 


the two chains in the first instance, and next extended 
itself to the neighbouring tissues of atoms till it finally 
sifted and severed all the agglomerated masses. The 
axiom mentioned above governed this process of separa- 
tion in so far that atoms of similar size and shape reacted 
in a similar manner on the impulse they received, the 
resistance increasing and diminishing according to the size 
of the primary particles. Nor was it only the attraction 
of like substances watery particles situated next to 
watery, particles of air next to particles of air, and so 
forth that was traced to this cause. It accounted further 
for the order of the masses thus agglomerated, inasmuch 
as their resistance to the motory impulse would be weaker 
or stronger according as the particles were smaller in size 
and more mobile in shape, or larger in size and less mobile 
in shape. Therefore the mass of earth, composed of the 
atoms which were larger and less mobile, formed the 
central point, and the ether, consisting of the smaller and 
rounded particles of fire, formed the exterior shell of the 
cosmos that was thus composed. It is about ten years 
since this cosmogonic doctrine was correctly interpreted 
by two independent investigators, each of whom succeeded 
in clearing away the accumulated parasites of centuries of 
error, and in restoring the thoughts of Leucippus and 
Democritus in their pristine purity. But the admirable 
services of these two writers were defective at one point. 
Neither of them noted that the use of the vortex as the 
vehicle of cosmic order was by no means an innovation on 
the part of the atomists. We have met with similar 
assumptions in Anaxagoras as well as in Empedocles, and 
we can name the common source from which all these 
speculations were derived with at least a high degree of 
probability. We refer to Anaximander of Miletus, the 
patriarch of cosmogonic speculation. His were the as- 
sumptions based on experiments with the slingstone which 
we mentioned in the first chapter of this work, and the 
Anaximandrian parentage of this theory is vouched for in 
a passage from Aristotle. But important as these signs 
of agreement are, the differences that meet us in the 
VOL. I. % 


employment of this aid to cosmogony are no less remarkable. 
Anaxagoras traced the first Impulse of the rotatory move- 
ment to an immaterial or at least a half-material principle. 
The masses which had hitherto been huddled together in 
wild confusion were extricated by that principle, relieved of 
their internal friction, and enabled to follow the bias of their 
specific gravity and to sort themselves in due order. We 
cannot determine at what point Empedocles discovered the 
first impulse in his process of motion, which likewise pro- 
duced a vortex and caused the separation of the material 
mass conglomerated hitherto in the one "divine ball." 
Certain it is, however, that his mechanical process served 
the purpose of Discord one of his two powers not inherent 
in matter. But no trace of this dependence was preserved by 
the atomists. The cosmogonic process was the means to 
no preconceived end whatsoever ; it did not spring from the 
intention of a Nous forming the universe, nor was it the 
emanation of any other power regulating and controlling 
phenomena. It was due wholly and solely to natural forces, 
in the strictest sense of the word, which were immanent in 
matter itself. It was an assumption purely due to the need 
of scientific explanation, and its only object was to supply 
without reservation or prejudice a satisfactory answer to 
the question, how could it happen that here and there in 
the infinite expanse of empty space, and at this and that 
point in the extent of infinite time, there should have 
occurred that severance and disposition of material masses 
of which the world that surrounds us is obviously no 
isolated instance? We must pause here to illustrate the 
misunderstandings that accrued at an early date to a 
portion of the atomists' answer. 

In our opening remarks in this context we spoke 
of atoms flitting about in the vacuum. We related 
how, in the theories of Leucippus and Democritus, hosts 
of such atoms would meet together, how those suited 
for combination would then be combined, and how those 
not so suited would partly at least be kept together by a 
shell of atomic tissues, and thus preserved from total 
dispersion. Finally, we have considered the mobile 


complexes of atoms whose sidewise Impact on one 
another produced the cosmogonic vortex. Two questions 
here arise, one of detail and the other of principle. The 
first relates to the vortex and to the effects ascribed to it. 
For these effects were the precise contrary of what they 
should have been by the laws of physics. The centrifugal 
force which is released by a rotatory movement is doubtless 
admirably adapted to sift an agglomerated mass of matter. 
But, as every centrifugal machine would show, it is the 
heaviest substances which are hurled to the greatest 
distance. Anaximander, whose theory we have just men- 
tioned, would appear to have been aware of this, and the 
essentially deductive bias of his genius drew direct inferences 
from his observations of everyday centrifugal movements 
to the effects of similar forces which he conceived to be at 
work in the formation of the world. The successors of 
Anaximander would appear to have been alarmed at the 
audacity of thought which connected the immensely great 
with the minutely small. So in adopting the hypothesis of 
rotation they looked for more exact parallels in their earthly 
experience to the cosmogonic vortex. Such a parallel they 
discovered in the region of meteorological phenomena, and 
they were promptly misled by their discovery. An eddy 
of comparative strength, like that not unfrequently produced 
in Greece by the summer north winds, would carry away 
lighter objects, though it was too weak to lift heavier ones 
as well. Further, the motion of every whirlwind takes 
an inward direction as it approaches the ground in con- 
sequence of the friction there ensuing, so that a heap of 
matter is actually deposited at its centre which remains 
unmoved. Thus the erroneous belief might arise that such 
consequences were inherent to a vortex-like movement as 
such, and that they must have accompanied the motion of 
the supposed cosmic vortex as well. 

Of far greater importance is the question of the causes 
of all these movements and inhibitions of movements. It 
was a question which perplexed thought at an early date, 
and gave rise to the most notable protests with which the 
atomic theory has had to contend. To a certain, indeed 


to a very great, extent, a direct, satisfactory, and luminous 
answer was available.. The factors borrowed from experi- 
ence and conceived as efficacious in those cosmical pro- 
cesses were impact, pressure, counter-shock, and resistance, 
increasing with the mass. It may be fatal to the atomic 
theory in its customary form that it implies the resilience 
of atom from atom, and thus assumes the elasticity of abso- 
lutely hard bodies. But this has nothing to do with the 
question of principle here concerned. Those factors further 
proved themselves more amply adapted to explain the earlier 
phases of the cosmic process than a superficial view might 
lead us to suppose. For even the atoms flitting in the 
vacuum might have met other atoms in the infinite extent 
of time past, and thus have been set in motion by the blows 
they received. This expedient, however, could by no means 
be regarded as final. It supposed that A was struck by 
B, B by C, C by D, and so forth, and that these shocks 
set them in motion. But when philosophy began to trace 
the process backw.ards, it was inevitably brought to the 
question of the starting-point of the series, however 
numerous its members may have been. The reply offered 
by Democritus to these interrogatories displeased many 
succeeding thinkers, and we may now inquire into the 
justice of their displeasure. His explanation was that 
such atomic motion was original, eternal, and without 
beginning, and that it would be a wild-goose chase to 
seek for the beginning or the cause of a process that 
never began. Hereupon he was told that his explana- 
tion was at variance with the principle of universal 
causation so emphatically proclaimed by him and his 
master, that he was exalting causelessness and accident 
to a controlling rank in the universe, that he was placing 
chance at the head of the universal process, and so forth, 
and so forth. The recriminations have been sustained 
from the time of Aristotle till our own day, and in order 
to decide fairly between the combatants we must first get 
a clear idea of what we mean by "cause." If we take its 
German equivalent Ursache^ we shall see at a glance how 
its ambiguity may have arisen and have produced this 


ancient conflict* For Ursache may mean a Sacke a thing 
in the widest sense of the term, a being or substance of 
any kind which was present before a phenomenon and 
called it into existence. Demrocritus was evidently fully 
entitled to decline to search for such a cause of an 
aboriginal process. For if he regarded the atoms as 
existing from all eternity, he was certainly not obliged by 
his belief in causation to send something yet more aboriginal 
in advance of that aboriginal thing. But the word 
Ursache has a second meaning which is the predominant 
meaning in scientific usage to-day. Briefly stated, we 
understand by the word " cause " the totality of conditions 
by which an event is produced. It is irrelevant whether the 
conditions are partially at least exterior to the object which 
forms the scene of the event, or whether they are exclusively 
forces or qualities immanent in it and determining the kind 
of its action. In this second meaning of the word the 
question of the cause even of an aboriginal event is admis- 
sible to research. In the present instance such a question 
would lead us to a definition of the quality of the atoms 
which enables them to move previously to *any impulse 
from without and independently of it. And if the answer 
were to satisfy more rigid demands, it would have to 
include the regulative law as well as the quality ; in other 
words, the strength and direction of that aboriginal motion. 
Democritus fulfilled the first but not the second part of 
this demand. He declared the original or natural condition 
of atoms to be a state of motion, but he stopped short at 
the problem of the direction and strength with which 
they moved. Nor indeed could he have done otherwise, 
inasmuch as no material of observation was placed at his 
disposal. In his world as in ours matter had long since 
emerged from its aboriginal period in which the desired 
law of motion could alone have been studied* The 
philosophy of Democritus, moreover, was especially hostile 
to such study, in consequence of the vortex from which 
he dated the beginning of the world as it exists. And, 
these considerations apart, where was he to look for a 
* Or cp. the derivation of Fr. chose and Ital cosa from Lat. causa* 


particle of matter which in the course of the ages had 
never yet collided with other particles, nor suffered any 
impact or pressure ? N"ay, even if he had found it, and if it 
had proved amenable to observation, and fit in itself to yield 
up that law of aboriginal motion, how, we may ask, could 
Democritus have prosecuted the inquiry, ignorant as he 
was of its past history in mechanics or of its lack of such 
a past ? Thus his rejection of that demand as superfluous 
and vain was not merely pardonable but inevitable. He 
was content with declaring that the atoms had been in 
motion since all eternity, and no one who is conversant or 
duly familiarized with the foundation and the course of his 
philosophy will doubt the legitimacy of that declaration. 
Leucippus and his disciple were concerned with the present 
phenomena of the universe, and their especial attention was 
given to the preliminary condition of those phenomena, and 
to attempts to explain the composition and origin of a 
cosmos such as ours and the separation and disposition 
of its constituent material parts. As genuine scientific 
thinkers, working from the known to the unknown, they 
were at pains to construct the minimum basis of assumption 
on which, together with the qualities of matter discovered 
by empirical methods, they might construct the universe 
and devise a reasonable theory of the activity of its 
component parts. It was one of these assumptions that 
the primary particles of matter had originally existed in a 
state of motion and not in a state of rest. By this means 
they could meet one another, by this means they could 
combine with one another, by this means the aggregates 
of atoms which had met in a specific way could and must 
produce a vortex, and so forth. But there was no cause 
whatever to make statements or to form conjectures as to 
the character of that motion. It was not necessary to the 
nature of the problem, nor could it be justified on any other 
ground. This refusal to meet his opponents on their own 
terms, In the midst of so many instances of temerity, does 
credit to the scientific moderation and self-restraint of the 
philosophers of Abdera. 

At this point, however, our progress is obstructed by 


various pretended metaphysical difficulties which are really 
the rooted prejudices of metaphysics. Their roots strike 
so deep that we should be tempted to call them ineradicable 
in the face of the fact that a famous natural philosopher of 
recent times has once more spoken of the problem of a bond 
between matter and motion as one of the insoluble " riddles 
of the universe.*' And that, we may add, is the least 
pretentious disguise in which our apparent difficulty has 
clothed itself. For all ultimate facts of creation are at 
bottom riddles of the universe in as far as they are in- 
accessible to what we call explanation. The existence 
of matter itself is as great a riddle as its motion. But 
when we come to the idea that the "conception" of matter 
contains something that makes it particularly difficult 
not to say, with most metaphysicians, impossible to 
associate it with primordial movement, then, we venture to 
assert, we are presented with one of the most remarkable 
of the illusions to which the credulous mind of man has 
ever fallen prone. In this, as in other similar difficulties or 
impossibilities of thought, we see nothing but an effect of 
habit. The unique feature to be remarked in this habit 
of thought which usurps the dignity of a 'principle of 
thought is the fact that we can point to its source with 
absolute definiteness in the extremely narrow limits of our 
faculties of perception. So far as we are acquainted with 
the universe, matter in motion, and not matter at rest, is 
the practically unexceptional rule. The whole treasury of 
science does not contain a single genuine instance of more 
than relative rest. The luminary which we inhabit and 
those revealed to our sight are involved in ceaseless 
velocity. They are as exempt from rest as the atoms and 
molecules of which every bodily substance is composed. 
But by an accident of vision we are not directly aware 
of the circumgyration by which we and our planet and 
all that it contains are borne through space. And another 
accident of vision withdraws from our limited senses the 
unceasing circulation of the particles of matter. Thus, by 
this combination of accidents, our eyes are almost exclu- 
sively accustomed to substances of a moderate size, and 


such a substance, it is to be noted, when we cease to 
regard it as a part of its whole or as the whole of its 
parts, will frequently produce the impression of a permanent 
peace, though there is merely a temporary truce to its motory 
forces. Here and here alone, we presume, is the root of 
that remarkable opinion which grew to dogmatic strength, 
and which presumed that a state of rest was more natural 
to matter than a state of motion, or even that it was 
absurd to consider motion as a part of the primordial 
endowment of matter. 

' From the dawn of modern times a little band of 
chosen spirits set themselves to oppose this dogma. Giordano 
Bruno and Francis Bacon were united in this purpose, and 
Leibniz and Spinoza repudiated the authority of Descartes 
as emphatically as eminent philosophers of the nineteenth 
century. One of these, John Tyndall, coined a beautiful 
phrase : " If Matter starts as a ' beggar/ it is because the 
Jacobs of theology have deprived it of its birthright." We 
would correct but a single word in this dictum. Instead of 
theology we should blame metaphysics, which has so fre- 
quently fanned and flattered the prejudices of mankind. 
For it better accords with the omnipotence and the omni- 
science ascribed by the theologians to the Deity that He 
should have given movement to matter at the outset than 
that He should have added it as a kind of afterthought. 
Democritus, at any rate, was not troubled by such questions. 
He flourished before the times when matter was regarded as 
" an inert mass " or " a quiescent load " obedient to exterior 
impulses alone. The future still guarded " that invention 
of the human intellect," to speak in the words of Bacon, 
"spoliated and passive matter." It was unknown to the 
hylozoists, and it seems proper to point out that the 
Atomists too, though they were disposed to regard the 
universe as a mechanism, were yet fortunately preserved 
from this fallacious generalization founded on the mechanics 
of earthly masses. In this instance as in others they were 
the heirs of their great forefathers, the physiologists of Ionia. 
5. It is more common, we admit, to dwell on the debt 
of gratitude which the authors of Atomism owed to the 


Eleatic philosophers. Our readers will already be in a 
position to decide with approximate accuracy for them- 
selves the extent and the nature of the obligation, but we 
need not hesitate to quote the view expressed on the 
subject by Theophrastus, the most important of ancient 

" Leucippus," he wrote, " who was a native of Elea or Miletus, 
was familiar with the doctrine of Parmenides, but did not follow in 
his footsteps nor in those of Xenophanes, but, methinks, pursued 
the opposite road. For while they represented the universe as uni- 
form, moveless, changeless, and limited, and turned aside from the 
bare question of non-being [i.e. the vacuum], Leucippus presumes an 
infinite number of primary bodies, the atoms, involved in ceaseless 
movement. He declares their forms to be infinite in number, 
because " not to mention other reasons " he perceived in the 
objects incessant birth and incessant change. Further, he did 
not regard being as more real than non-being, and he recognizes 
in both equally the cause of every process." 

Without reading into the introductory words the state- 
ment, which we believe to be untrue, that Leucippus was a 
pupil of Parmenides, we may remark that he would have 
proved as unsatisfactory a disciple to that sage as Voltaire 
must have been to his Jesuit fathers. But the passage is 
more instructive in displaying the error of those who 
account the second postulate of matter as the creation of 
Parmenides. The fundamental contradictions so justly and 
emphatically mentioned by Theophrastus do not prevent 
them from assuming the far-reaching dependence of the 
atomistic on the Eleatic doctrine. We should exhaust 
the patience of our readers -if we were to recapitulate the 
grounds on which we have recognized both postulates of 
matter as the product and property of the Ionian school. 
Still, we are anxious to give Parmenides the full credit of 
having formulated them strictly a credit, indeed, which 
is not inconsiderably diminished by the vain attempt to 
support them by d priori arguments. It was not entirely 
to no purpose that the Eleatic metaphysicians exercised 
their intellect in great efforts of abstraction. The accept- 
ance of the second postulate of the qualitative constancy 


of matter left the alternative between two ways of thought, 
and two only, which may briefly be designated as the road 
of Anaxagoras and the road of Leucippus. The one theory 
of matter presumed as many primary substances as there 
were actual combinations of the qualities of sense, and the 
other presumed one primary matter, possessing all the 
common fundamental qualities of bodies, but excluding 
the diverging qualities of sense. The ground preliminary 
to this last-named view was prepared by Parmenides, who 
likewise drew a line of demarcation between qualities 
characteristic of bodily substances as such and those that 
we may call the accidents of bodily substance. The " Being " 
of Parmenides, by which space was filled, possessed bare 
eternity and unchangeableness. Motion was inconceivable 
to him, and was therefore deemed impossible, and the me- 
chanical qualities of substance, by which all motion is caused 
and controlled, were therefore also meaningless in his eyes. 
This doctrine was silent about impact and pressure, and 
all the modifications of those processes. Thus the hard 
and fast line which he drew between true Being and mere 
delusive appearance did not coincide with the distinc- 
tion drawn by Leucippus between the objective and merely 
subjective reality, between the primary and secondary 
attributes of things. On the contrary, it relegated motion, 
the centre and pivot of the atomistic theory of the 
universe, to the realm of appearance. Still, it was some- 
thing that he drew such a distinction at all, that he 
recognized a difference between the essential attributes of 
his Being and other non-essential attributes, and that he 
kept them firmly apart ; and, inasmuch as he did this, he 
may be said to have promoted that theory of the universe 
almost in his own despite. The paths of intellectual pro- 
gress cross one another so wonderfully that the very man 
who denied all movement, all change, and all process, and 
who therefore robbed natural research of its contents, 
advanced the cause of natural research. Unconsciously 
and unwillingly he served the cause of the science which 
recognized change and process, which reduced them to 
mechanical motion and which was solely concerned with 


such problems. Full justice has thus been done to the 
contribution of the Eleatics in the advancement of positive 
knowledge. And more than this, perhaps. For who 
shall say if Leucippus, face to face with that alternative, 
would not have espoused the right side, and have entered 
the lists against Anaxagoras even without being prompted 
by Parmenides ? It is idle to discuss what mi^ht have 
been, but it would be wrong to conclude from the points 
of contact of both doctrines that the one was dependent 
on the other. Contradiction is contact, and to that extent 
it is fair to say that these two theories were related. The 
Eleatics argued as follows : 

"Without a vacuum there is no motion. 
There is no vacuum. 
/. There is no motion." 

The Atomists argued on the contrary : 

" Without a vacuum there is no motion. 
There is motion. 
.'. There is a vacuum." 

The conclusions are plainly in striking contrast, but it is 
legitimate to ask if the Atomist did not owe the Eleatic 
the major premise common to both, and thus the corner- 
stone, as it were, of at least that portion of his philosophy. 
An affirmative answer has frequently been returned to this 
question, but we venture to regard it as wholly erroneous. 
The Eleatics could not have been the authors of this 
common premise, Melissus had already treated of empty 
space in a manner which does not lead us to believe that 
he set up the hypothesis in order to knock it down, and 
the tone in which Parmenides himself refuted the assump- 
tion of the vacuum or non-being makes it impossible to 
doubt that he found the doctrine ready-made as an aid to 
the explanation of nature. No, it was not Parmenides 
who influenced Leucippus in this instance. That influence 
must be traced to older anonymous thinkers anterior to 
both probably, as we have twice had occasion to remark, 
to Pythagoreans.* We venture to go one step further. 
* Bk. II. Ch. II. 4 ; and cp. 2 above. 


These nameless philosophers did not only invent the 
vacuum, but they bequeathed to their successors an 
analogue to the atoms. Parmenides speaks of something 
in which nothing but vacuum can be seen, but which, 
according to the assumptions of teachers whom he bitterly 
opposed, occupied in part a continuous space and in part 
was "regularly distributed throughout space." In other 
words, he was acquainted with the doctrine which assumed 
not merely continuous space empty of all matter, but 
also empty interstices traversing the whole material 
world. The islets of matter, as we may call them, 
surrounded by these interstices as though by a network 
of canals, approximate very closely in their object and 
intention to the atoms of Leucippus. Moreover, the con- 
ception of a material mass regularly and unexceptionally 
interrupted can hardly have been due to any other demand 
than the need of explaining a universal fact Finally, the 
fact requiring explanation can hardly have been other than 
the fact of motion. These conclusions we believe to be 
true not the less true, indeed, because they have never 
been drawn before. Here once more the attentive reader 
will remark the organic growth of ideas and that progres- 
sive development which enhances the value of scientific 
achievements without seriously detracting from the merits 
of their authors. 

6. We are now at liberty to ask what was the chief 
contribution made by Leucippus to science, and what part 
of his doctrine bore most conspicuously the impress of his 
original genius. He did not introduce the conception of 
the vacuum, nor did he do more than to refine and to raise 
to the dignity of a self-contained system the atomic theory 
which existed before him, though in a rough, rudimentary, 
and imperfect shape. Whether the labours of Parmenides 
were indispensable or not, Parmenides at least preceded 
Leucippus, and prepared the way for the distinction of 
essential and unessential attributes, or, to speak with John 
Locke, of the primary and secondary qualities of objects. 
But Leucippus entered a virgin field in his attempt to 
relate the world of substances with the world of phenomena, 


instead of following the Eleatics in rejecting the world of 
phenomena as a phantasm and delusion to be expelled 
from the fane of science* He tried to build a bridge 
between two worlds which had once been combined 
without distinction, and which, when they had afterwards 
been distinguished, were utterly sundered from each other ; 
and this grand undertaking, this endeavour to prove 
that the totality of the sensible qualities is, mathematically 
speaking, a function of their corporeal qualities, of their 
size, shape, position, situation, nearness, and distance, and 
thus to approach the universe as a whole, not as a sceptic, 
not -as an iconoclast, but -in the humble spirit of explana- 
tion, this is the crown and apex of the intellectual work of 
Leucippus. The most original part of his achievement 
was also the most permanent: yea, we may call it indestruc- 
tible. Atomism may be superseded ; the theory of cognition 
in its progress has already weakened the distinction between 
primary and secondary qualities ; but the attempt to corre- 
late all qualitative differences with differences of size, and 
shape, and situation, and movement, is destined to survive 
all changes of opinion and thought. The exact know- 
ledge of nature rests entirely on this attempt to reduce 
qualities to quantities, or, to speak more precisely, to 
establish fixed relations between the two. Mathematical 
physics were contained there as in a germ, and modern 
research took its starting-point thence. Galilei, Descartes, 
Huyghens, they all followed the same path. " I do not 
believe," declared Galilei, "that anything else is required 
than magnitudes, shapes, quantities, and slow movements 
or swift, to produce in us tastes, smells, sounds." Huyghens 
presupposed bodies formed of homogeneous matter, "in 
which no qualities were distinguished, but only different 
magnitudes, shapes, and movements ; " and this was like- 
wise the point of view which was maintained before him by 
Descartes. These philosophers led the van of the natural 
science of to-day, and they were united, as they expressly 
testify, in their acquaintance with the doctrine which they 
describe as Democritean, though its true author was Leucip- 
pus." And here we shall do well to remark that the links 


thus discerned In the chain of natural phenomena, and the 
dominion over nature which such discernment implies, are 
wholly independent of all systems of philosophy, whether 
that which we ourselves prefer, or that which our descendants 
may adopt. The electric lamp loses none of its brightness 
for the agnostic, dark as he may deem the innermost 
essence of nature. The laws of optics are the same for 
the champion of the mechanics of the universe as for 
him who derives the essence of the world's process from 
something other than material substance and its move- 
ments. Whatever answer the future may return to these 
fundamental problems of human knowledge, there is 
one fact that can never be shaken : Corporeal movements, 
as an element that can be quantitatively determined, are 
the " Open, Sesame/ 1 that has unlocked countless secrets 
in the system of nature, and that will unlock countless 
more. Here, if anywhere, it is legitimate to speak of 
finality. And that Leucippus by his theory put this key 
in the hand of mankind this is his highest title to honour, 
this his imperishable renown. 

It detracts very little from his merit that his own 
attempts to prove the great doctrine with which he endowed 
the world frequently bore the stamp of that d priori reason- 
ing which he probably learnt from Zeno. Thus he was 
not content to found his supreme hypothesis on those facts 
of experience which really underlie it, on a reference to 
the facts of spatial movement, rarefaction and condensa- 
tion, compression and other changes of volume, which thus 
were accounted for, and of which the growth of organic beings 
is an important special instance. He was also at pains to 
equip his arguments with the compelling force which should 
deprive an adversary of every outlet, and refute him by an 
ad absurdum, or reduce him to a self-contradiction when 
he contradicted the new theory. One of his ratiocinations, 
for example, is said to have begun as follows : " The full 
cannot take in anything." Certainly not, we may add, 
since fulness in the strict sense of the word, and incapacity 
to take in anything, are but synonymous expressions. 
When we have poured water into a vessel till it cannot 


Hold any more we call it full, and if we are told that a 
vessel is full we invariably understand that it cannot take 
in anything more. We shall presently see if Leucippus 
employed this tautology merely as an innocent device to 
expound the conception of fulness. He is said to have 
continued as follows : 

" But if the full were to take in anything more, and if in that 
way two bodies [of equal magnitude] were to find room where 
hitherto there was only room for one, then there would be no end 
to the number of bodies which could be located in the same place, 
and the smallest could contain the greatest." 

In making this last statement, Leucippus had played 
his trump card. It concealed an ambiguity, however, in 
which the fate of the whole argument was involved. No 
anti-atomist was really committed to the belief that the 
smallest could contain the greatest, as such, in the sense that 
a nutshell could hold an elephant. But that a substance 
with the size of an elephant can be so far compressed as 
to enter a nutshell or eggshell, though actually untrue, is 
neither an absurd nor a self-contradictory proposition. It 
would only become so if the incompressibility of matter 
had already been granted ; if, that is to say, the thing to 
be proved were already taken as proven. But the opening 
words of the argument served to beg that question. There 
the conception of fulness, which was first employed in a 
purely empirical sense compatible with either theory, was 
transferred into the conception of impenetrability or in- 
compressibility by the pseudo-explanatory phrase about 
"taking nothing in." The second meaning replaced the 
first, and it was only when this transference was effected 
that the desired conclusion could be drawn from the 
premises. Otherwise the process of inference would have 
been invalid. We may here note another demonstration 
of a still less innocent kind which belonged to the same 
category* From Leucippus downwards the atomists were 
at pains to prove the infinite number of different forms of 
atoms, " There is no reason why the atoms should possess 
this form rather than that," and therefore, it was argued, 


they represented all conceivable forms. To a certain extent 
this simply expressed the expectation that the exuberant 
wealth of forms displayed by nature in other respects 
would be repeated in the present instance, and so far as 
we have remarked before it contained an inference by 
analogy, to which it is impossible to deny some small 
measure of justification as a presumption or provisional 
opinion. But any claim advanced by the argument to the 
force of dogmatic truth is evidently null and void. It 
attempted to trespass the eternal barriers of human know- 
ledge by prying into the resources of nature, and by 
forming a judgment on their limited or unlimited range. 
Its method recalls Anaximander's sham proof that the 
earth is at rest, as well as the kindred attempts at 
demonstration which we have mentioned above on the part 
of metaphysical mechanicians to found the law of inertia on 
a priori considerations instead of an empirical basis.* But 
the likeness has at least one point of difference. Those 
other speculations supplied an untenable proof to a veritable 
fact of nature, but in the present instance the fact which 
awaited demonstration, apart from its erroneous proof, was 
itself a dubious fact. When we reach the following direct 
attempt to prove the existence of a vacuum, we are pro- 
bably correct in ascribing it to Democritus with his marked 
bias to empiricism. He stated it in this form : A vessel 
filled with ashes will take in as much water by which 
he probably meant '* nearly as much water " as if there 
were no ashes there ; the condition that renders this 
possible is that the ashes contain a very large amount of 
vacuum. We need hardly point out to our readers that 
the interpretation of the fact was erroneous. Porous 
bodies, such as ashes, contain great quantities of air, 
and these are expelled by the water poured into the 
ash-pail. It is true that Democritus, if he had been 
informed of this, might have retorted by the question: 
Whither can the air escape, when it makes room for the 
water, if the whole space be already occupied by impene- 
trable matter ? And, in this modified form, the argument 
* Bk. I. Ch. I, 3 . 


would have implied neither more nor less than any other 
reference to a progressive movement in space which 
demands the assumption of vacua as soon as the impene- 
trability of matter is already taken as proved. 

7. Such were some of the mistakes committed by 
these giants of thought, and neither separately nor col- 
lectively are they calculated to detract seriously from their 
renown. Still, we are bound to mention them, as well on 
other grounds as because they help to show, what is true 
beyond a doubt, that the atomic theory has never properly 
been proved either in ancient or in modern times. It was, 
it is, and it remains, not a theory in the strict sense of 
the word, but merely an hypothesis, though an hypothesis, 
it is true, of unparalleled vitality and endurance, which 
has yielded a splendid harvest to physical and chemical 
research down to our own day. By its aid old facts have 
ever been satisfactorily explained and new facts have been 
discovered, so that it must fairly be conceded a large degree 
of objective truth, or, more precisely expressed, it must 
follow for a long way a road parallel to the real objective 
condition of things. Still, as has been said, it is an hypo- 
thesis, and its assumption of facts that lie far beyond the 
limits of human perception deprives it for all time of 
direct verification. Now, the indirect proof of an hypothesis 
can only become a complete proof if it be shown not 
merely that it provides a most satisfactory explanation of 
the phenomena, but that no other possible hypothesis would 
do equally well or better. In the present instance, where 
the phenomena concerned are the most secret processes of 
nature and those furthest removed from our sense-perception, 
the more than approximate proof of this kind will hardly 
ever, nay, will certainly never be attainable. The most 
cautious thinkers of to-day, accordingly, while paying every 
honour to the atomic hypothesis, do not affect to regard it 
as more than a conjecture which comes sufficiently close 
to the finality of truth to be used with considerable advan- 
tage and success, but which yet should never be employed 
without the silent reservation that it is perhaps not an 
ultimate truth, nor even the ultimate truth at our disposal. 

VOL. L 2 A 


And when we change our point of view and look at the 
theory of cognition instead of the facts of nature, we find 
ourselves impelled to another and a deeper reservation. 
The student of that theory is doubtful whether in the last 
resort he can learn anything about the exterior world, or 
at .least can learn anything else, except what is taught 
him by the existence of series of sensations connected by 
laws of uniformity. The difference between primary and 
secondary qualities, which plays so prominent a part in the 
foreground of cognition, loses its fundamental importance in 
his eyes. His mature self-consciousness obliges him to refer 
back to sensations not merely smells, tastes, colours, and 
sounds, but also all the essential characteristics of material 
substance, and to acknowledge that the conception of matter 
itself is robbed of its contents when the perceiving and feeling 
subject of sensation is abstracted. But the atomic theory 
is not valueless even in the eyes of thinkers who take the 
above point of view. They recognize in it " a mathematical 
model for the statement of facts," and they ascribe to it 
" a function in physics similar " to that possessed by " cer- 
tain auxiliary mathematical conceptions." To this, as we 
have stated before, we shall have occasion to return. We 
have merely considered it in this place, hastily and cursorily 
though it may have been, in order to add the remark that 
the authors of atomism took no account whatsoever of the 
dubiety that marked a later phase in the development of 
speculation. And in general we may say it works for the 
salvation of science that its pioneers in their respective 
periods are not distracted from the direct and limited 
task set before them by the confusion and bewilderment of 
higher and more distant views. 

Atomism and Materialism the question now arises, 
how far these two are identical. These early Atomists 
were content to be confined to the bodily world, nor was 
their complacency disturbed by the ghost of a scruple 
arising from the theory of cognition ; and the name of 
Idealism having been given to the reverse of this nal've 
philosophy, Leucippus and Democritus may fairly be called 
materialists. They were materialists, too, in as far as they 


did not assume the continued existence of the psyche or 
breath-soul, but rather outdid Parmenides and Empedocles, 
in whose systems the conception played a sorry part 
wholly irrelevant to the explanation of actual facts, by 
rejecting it altogether and replacing it by soul-atoms. But 
they were not materialists if by that term we mean thinkers 
who deny or dispute the existence of spiritual substances, 
for the simple reason that the transference of the conception 
of substance from the material world, its original home, had 
not yet taken place. And, in common with the rest of their 
predecessors and contemporaries in natural philosophy, with 
the sole exception of Anaxagoras, they were materialists in 
as much as they looked for the only causes or conditions 
of the states and qualities of consciousness in the material 
world alone. Nor did they differ essentially from the great 
majority of their precursors in their relation to the divine. 
Like these, they acknowledged no divine creator of the world, 
and they were as loth as Empedocles to admit immortal 
individual gods. Democritus derived the belief in such 
deities and their might from the terror with which thunder 
and lightning, solar and lunar eclipses, and similar marvels 
had impressed the imagination of primitive man. At the 
same time, he is said to have admitted the divinity of the 
stars, doubtless on account of their fiery nature, in accord- 
ance, that is to say, with his doctrine that they were 
composed of soul-atoms, and he shared the belief of 
Empedocles in supernatural Beings of long though not of 
unlimited life. On the whole, he was inclined to regard 
the course of the universe as unaffected by the gods, and 
his assumption accordingly lacked a true scientific pretext 
But he was still unable to make up his mind to dismiss to 
the limbo of fiction all that had been told of the gods and 
their influence on mankind. The combination and con- 
catenation of his innumerable and multiform atoms afforded 
a teeming material for such constructions, and doubtless he 
used these resources to account for the origin of Beings sur- 
passing all human standards in size and in beauty. They 
were designed to move in aerial space. The images eman- 
ating from them were; to enter in our bodies and in their 


most diverse organs. Thus by indirect means and by direct 
impressions on our senses by appearing to us in dreams 
and speaking to us they were to exercise in all kinds of 
ways their beneficial and malignant influences, 

8. The reader will have been able to gather some 
acquaintance with the psychology of Democritus and his 
master, and especially of their perceptive theories, from 
some of the preceding extracts. That portion of their 
teaching was not particularly fertile, though Epicurus and 
his disciples did not hesitate to incorporate it in their system 
of philosophy. For both those reasons, therefore, we shall 
deal with it here as briefly as possible, leaving its further 
significance to be discussed in the history of Epicurism, 
which possesses the additional advantage that far ampler 
evidence is there at our disposal than the destructive 
criticism of antagonists such as that which Theophrastus 
levelled at isolated points in the Democritean theory of cog- 
nition. The vehicles of psychic functions in the system of 
Democritus were the most mobile of the atoms a fact which 
was partly due to the apparent need of such a vehicle for the 
proverbial swiftness of thought,* and partly to the picture of 
ceaseless change presented by the process of life,- which 
was also regarded as a product of the soul in its identity 
with vital force. On this account the atoms actually em- 
ployed for the functions of the soul were conceived as small, 
round, and smooth. It was obvious that their great mobility 
would keep them constantly endeavouring to escape from 
the body, and respiration was accordingly entrusted with 
the task of counteracting such attempts. It worked in 
two ways : first, by holding the atoms back by a current of 
air ; and secondly, by continually renewing them. Mean- 
while the extinction of this process would bring about their 
final dissipation. Another consideration suggests itself here. 
These soul-atoms being derived from the external world, 
It is quite comprehensible that Democritus, following in the 
footsteps of Parmenides and Empedocles, should have drawn 
no sharp line of demarcation between the animate and the 
inanimate creation, but should have distinguished the two r 
* Cp, Homer, " Swift as a wing or as thought." 


merely by a difference of degree. And lastly, we may 
remark his identification of the soul-atoms with the 
atoms of fire, thus again reminding us of Heraclitus 
a conclusion to which he was led as much by the vital 
heat of the higher organisms as by the ceaseless 
vibration of the atoms resembling the movement of a 
flame. Our philosopher took account of all the processes 
of perception, but his closest attention was given to the 
visual function. The wonderful fact that distant objects 
affect our organs of sight was held by Democritus to be 
inexplicable without the assumption of an intervening 
agent. Even to-day, when use and wont have blunted the 
edge of the wonder, it strikes us with ever fresh surprise, 
and, where modern physics speaks of the medium of ether, 
Democritus believed that the explanation was to be found 
in air. The air was supposed to receive impressions from 
the objects of sight and to transfer them to our organs 
of vision, such impressions being literally impressed like 
the mark of the signet on wax. He represented the objects 
themselves as incessantly shedding thin husks or membranes, 
which entered the eye that happened to be in their immediate 
neighbourhood, and there became visible as the picture in 
the pupil ; when the eye was at a distance, he conceived 
this effect to be produced by the intermediary action of 
the air. Air, then, was indispensable for this purpose, but 
yet it was not regarded as a wholly favourable agent in 
visual perception. The disturbing influence of the medium 
was held to account for the darkening and final disappear- 
ance of the most distant objects of sight Except for such 
disturbance, according to Democritus, we should be able 
to perceive an ant crawling on the vault of heaven. The 
reader will be able to gather even from this hasty sketch 
that the great thinker was still wholly unacquainted with 
even the elements of optics ; nor will it escape him that 
Democritus was misled in this instance by his attempt, 
partially successful in other respects, to derive every effect 
of one object on another from direct contact, and from its 
immediate mechanical manifestations in pressure and im- 
pact It must further be acknowledged that this feature in 


the fundamental doctrine of Democritus made his specula- 
tions on optics suffer in comparison with those of Alcmseon 
and Empedocles. They represent a cruder and a more 
primitive stage of thought, nor are we in a position to say 
how he himself dealt with the difficulties that arose out of 
his own hypothesis. Two possibilities suggest themselves. 
Either he must have failed to notice that this incessant 
shedding of thin atomic layers or membranes (called by 
him "idols" or images) must in course of time have 
brought about a considerable diminution in the substantial 
bulk of bodies, or else he must have met this objection by 
a reference to the perishableness of all objects of sense. 
One point only in this strange theory is deserving of praise. 
So far as it traced hallucinations and so-called subjective 
sensations of all kinds to these " images " introduced from 
outside, it agreed with modern science in not destroying 
every link of community between the sensations produced 
by the most diverse kinds of stimulus, and in that point 
alone. But, instead of emphasizing the common subjective 
factor, it rather did the reverse ; instead of recognizing and 
asserting, as we now do, the specific energy of the nerves of 
sense, and thus assimilating perception to hallucination, it 
rather assimilated hallucination to perception. In all this 
we have no right to be surprised. We have only to recall 
the foundation of the doctrine on the unshaken and un- 
reasoning belief in matter as the sole and only reality, a 
belief undisturbed by any scepticism or any trace of 
refined and matured self-consciousness, in order to extend 
it our free pardon. 

We have spoken of the mind of Democritus as exempt 
from scepticism, and we repeat this claim, though there 
are several utterances in the sparse fragments of his 
works which may produce the opposite appearance. But 
it is merely apparent and nothing more. Three groups 
of sentiment may be distinguished which have not been 
kept apart with sufficient care. Democritus, like Faust, 
was " consumed at heart " because, despite the thought and 
trouble and research of a long life devoted to science, his 
sum of knowledge was so small that he could only cast a 


few fitful and furtive glances Into the secrets of nature. 
" Truth dwelleth in the deep ; " " reality is shut out from 
human ken ; " these and similar sighs of a labouring spirit 
are still preserved in the fragments of his work entitled "Cor- 
roborations," which pursued mainly an inductive or empirical 
method, in deliberate opposition, perhaps, to the a priori 
tendencies of Leucippus. In a further passage of the same 
treatise we read the following plaintive protest: "We per- 
ceive in fact nothing certain, but such things only as change 
with the state of our body, and of that which enters it, and 
which resists it." The attempt might be made to infer from 
this passage that Democritus was a victim, though merely 
for a time, to the principles of scepticism. But in drawing 
such a conclusion we should err with the ancient sceptic, 
to whom we owe the quotation, and who forced it to sub- 
serve his own teaching, in overlooking one point which is 
really sufficiently obvious. The protest in question was 
founded on the very nature of the body about which the 
philosopher, when he penned those words, was no more 
dubious than at any other time. " In truth there are atoms 
and vacuum " this was the fundamental theory of Demo- 
critus, and no shadow of a doubt ever approached him as 
to its unconditional validity. We may assert this the more 
definitely because Sextus himself, the ancient sceptic who 
would have greeted the great Atomist as a brother, and 
who searched through his writings to this end with tireless 
industry and persistency, was yet wholly unable to discover 
the evidence that he looked for. 

We pause at the challenge of Colotes. He quotes 
a remark from Democritus which utterly destroyed all 
certainty of knowledge, and which, in the words of this 
favourite pupil of Epicurus, "brought life itself into confu- 
sion." But the challenge has long since been met. The 
seemingly incriminating remark is not a proof of the loose 
hold which his principles possessed over the mind of 
Democritus ; it affords, on the contrary, direct evidence 
of the unshaken confidence with which he clung to his 
fundamental view and to the consequences it entailed. 
The sentence in question ran as follows: "An object is 


not naturally constituted in one way any more than in 
another," but the context in which it occurs makes it irre- 
futably clear that it refers expressly to those qualities of 
objects which modern science terms "secondary," and to 
which, as our readers already know, Democritus denied 
objective reality. And the remark proscribed by Colotes 
was admirably suited to point this distinction in the most 
emphatic way possible. The sweet taste of honey to 
a man in good health, its bitter taste to the jaundiced 
palate, these and similar facts were comrtionly known 
and acknowledged ; but, as generally stated, they were at 
variance not merely with that important distinction, but 
even with ordinary common sense. The expressions used 
were as loose and inexact as they are on the lips of most 
cultivated people to-day. u Honey," they said, as they still 
say, " is sweet ; but to those patients it seems bitter." To 
this Democritus demurred. Truth and untruth, he con- 
tended, were not to be determined by a plebiscite. In 
such a case, if many men had jaundice and only a few 
were free from it, the standard of truth would be altered. 
It was not a difference of fact and semblance, but merely 
of majority and minority. The one sensation, he main- 
tained, was just as subjective, just as relative, just as 
exterior to the object, as the other. Normal sweetness 
was no more an objective quality of honey than its ab- 
normal bitterness. Honey was not sweet " any more than " 
it was bitter. What honey was in his theory was a com- 
plex of atoms of such and such a shape, size, and position, 
and containing such and such a proportion of vacuum. 
The rest was nothing but the effect exercised by it on other 
bodies, and among them on the human organs of taste. 
That effect, again, must partly depend on those organs 
and on their permanent or temporary, common or individual 
qualities. Democritus was never assailed by any scruple 
whatsoever as to the objective existence of bodies and 
their attributes. He was rather animated by the desire to 
sever as sharply and as definitely as possible the unchange- 
ableness of these causes from the changeableness of the 
effects which they exerted in combination with the varying 


subjective factor, and thus to prevent the spread of the 
scepticism aroused by those changes into the domain of 
the unchangeable. On this account alone Democritus said 
,what he did say. 

The third and last of the groups in which these frag- 
ments of Democritus fall contains the celebrated passage 
in which a distinction was drawn between genuine and 
obscure knowledge. His chef d'czuvre was a work in three 
books on reasoning, entitled " The Canon," which presum- 
ably founded and discussed a system of inductive logic. 
Somewhere in this work the following sentences occurred. 
"There are two kinds of insight, the genuine and the 
obscure. To the obscure belong all these : sight, hearing, 
smell, taste, touch ; but the genuine, which is severed 

from it " But here the haste of Sextus, our authority, 

has robbed us of the end of the extract Still, enough has 
been preserved to lend a show of correctness to those critics 
who would call the physicist of Abdera a metaphysician or 
ontologist. It may well be argued that he made a clean 
sweep of the evidence of the senses, and that nothing was 
left to him, accordingly, save to take refuge on the heights 
of pure Being. But cavalierly as Sextus dealt with his 
author, the extract can nevertheless be used to rectify this 
first erroneous impression. After a brief interlude he 
iresumed the dropped thread of his disquisition, and added 
a second sentence to the first. Unfortunately, it is like- 
wise a mutilated, probably a decapitated, sentence. Genuine 
cognition begins, so Democritus wrote, " where the obscure 
is no longer (adequate), where it cannot perceive the minutely 
small either by sight or hearing, or smell or taste or touch, 
but the object becomes too fine for that purpose." In a 
word, Democritus was longing for a microscope of ideal power. 
Had he possessed such an instrument, he would have sub- 
tracted colour from what it showed him as a subjective 
accretion, and would have accepted what was left as the 
highest attainable objective truth. The reproach that he 
levelled at the senses collectively was that their evidence did 
not extend far enough ; that they deserted us at the point 
where the minutest bodies and the most delicate processes 


were to be got at, from which the material masses and 
the processes obtaining in them are composed. Corporeal 
things and material processes were likewise in his view the 
objects of the genuine or undisturbed knowledge which 
transcended the limits of obscure or disturbed cognition. 
Lacking the ideal instruments of precision, which we still 
do not possess, the aids to knowledge which Democritus 
obtained were naturally nothing but inferences, though they 
were inferences of a kind intended for no other purpose than 
to lighten the darkness of the material world, and resting on 
no other foundation than the evidence of the senses, inade- 
quate and untrustworthy indeed, but not wholly to be 
rejected, and capable of considerable use by their mutual 
powers of self-correction and control. These inferences of 
his were obviously based on analogy, or rather, in as far as 
they were more strictly formulated, they were inductive 
inferences which started from perceptible facts, and, pre- 
mising that the forces or qualities thus obtained were valid 
beyond the limits of perception, attempted to overstep those 
limits both in space and time. We are now in a position to 
resume in a few words the facts bearing on the scepticism of 
Democritus. Beyond its pale may be placed not merely his 
belief in the corporeal world, but also his fundamental hypo- 
theses anent the composition of bodies out of atoms and 
vacuum as well as the primary qualities of matter. This 
region of the highest knowledge was situated on the heights 
above scepticism, whereas another region was situated below 
it. That second region was occupied by those secondary 
or subjective phenomena which, strictly speaking, are 
neither true nor false, but simply the effects of natural 
causes, at once inevitable and undeniable. It was the 
middle region between the two, that of the detailed 
explanation of nature, which formed the play-ground 
of the doubts and scruples by which Democritus was 
tormented and confused. He was constantly engaged in 
trying to reconcile the two spheres of thought. He was 
constantly asking himself what real processes, remote from 
direct perception, were to be presumed behind the pheno- 
mena that were revealed to the senses ; and what bodily 


movements were to be pre-supposed in order to harmonize 
these phenomena with the known forces of nature or 
qualities of things. The mind of Deinocritus dwelt by 
choice on the details of investigation, and it was problems 
of this kind that drove him again and again to question 
the adequacy of his internal and external auxiliaries, and 
that drew from his heart the bitter reiterated complaint 
which affords such striking evidence of his insatiable 
thirst for knowledge and his unappeasable criticism of 

9. The rules of investigation contained in the " Canon " 
of Democritus have long since been lost and forgotten. We 
can only deduce them to-day from his practice, or rather 
from the criticism which that practice entailed. His chief 
critic was Aristotle, who deserves our best thanks in that 
respect, though we cannot always subscribe to his views. 
One reproach, indeed, directed by Aristotle at the method 
of Democritus is changed in our eyes into a title to the 
highest honour. He blamed the philosopher of Abdera for 
proposing in the ultimate resort no other solution of the 
problems of natural processes than " it is so or it happens 
so always," or " it has happened heretofore likewise." In 
other words, Democritus recognized experience as the ulti- 
mate source of our knowledge of nature. The chain of our 
deductions might be infinitely long and its links might be 
as many as possible, but at last, he argued, we must reach 
a point where elucidation stops short, and where nothing is 
left to us but to admit a fact capable of no further deduc- 
tion. Every deductive process rests in the last resort on 
inductions this is a fundamental truth which Aristotle 
himself never actually disputed. But in individual instances 
his desire for explanation would frequently not rest satisfied 
with the admission of ultimate facts based solely on ex- 
perience and entirely impervious to human insight Too 
often his theory of nature introduced a pseudo-explanation 
where it ought actually to have abandoned all further search 
for knowledge. Democritus had no such disposition to sub- 
stitute sham explanations derived for the most part from 
an insidious prejudice. As he had rejected the arbitrary 


assumption, which we have already discussed to satiety, 
that matter must have received its first motive impulse 
from without, so he stood aloof from the Platonic- Aristo- 
telian theory of "natural places" the tendency of fiery 
matter upwards, of earthy matter downwards, and so forth. 
Accordingly, when Aristotle accuses Democritus and Leu- 
cippus of "carelessly neglecting to investigate the origin 
of motion," modern science adopts unreservedly the cause of 
the defendants and not of the plaintiff.* There is a marked 
resemblance between the criticism directed by Aristotle at 
the treatment of these questions by the Atomists, and the 
reproaches aimed against Galilei and his method of natural 
research in the correspondence of Descartes with Mersenne. 
In the one case as in the other we see the spirit of meta- 
physics incapable of appreciating the work of the less pre- 
tentious but more fruitful empirical methods. 

When we come to the problem of design and its treat- 
ment, it is more difficult to frame a fair judgment on the 
rights and wrongs of this controversy. The Atomists left 
the conception of design altogether on one side in their 
view of the origin and arrangement of the world, or rathef 
of the worlds. They confined their efforts to following and 
tracing back as far as possible the road of the mechanical 
explanation of nature. Nay, even when they reached the 
processes of organic life, they did not attempt to strike out 
a new path of elucidation. On both charges alike they 
incurred the reproach of Aristotle. In his eyes the assump- 
tion that the order and beauty of the universe were of 
spontaneous growth was just as inadequate as the second 
assumption, that the adaptation of means to ends in the 
structure of animals and plants had occurred without the 
control of an immanent principle of purpose, or, to use the 
word coined by Karl Ernst von Baer and precisely corre- 
sponding to Aristotle's meaning, had been developed without 
Ziehtrebigkeit or "spontaneous teleology." In his eyes, 
again, their proceeding in this respect was just as silly as 
to argue that in tapping a dropsical patient the cause of 
the process was the lancet of the surgeon, and not the 
desired purpose of curing the subject by the operation. 


Here we enter the field of a controversy which Is still 
raging to-day, and we know so little of the details of the 
Atomistic doctrines that it would be difficult to adjudi- 
cate between the disputants even if the points at issue 
had been settled at least in principle. Let us put the 
question in a concrete form. In popular handbooks of 
Materialism we frequently meet a solution which may be 
stated compendiously as follows : Stags have long legs not 
in order that they may run swiftly, but they run swiftly 
because they have long legs. True, cause and effect are 
likely enough to be confused with means and end, and this 
confusion plays a conspicuous part in the history of human 
thought. It is not the less true that the teleological method 
can frequently be successfully refuted by the argument 
that only such forms as are fit to endure can acquire consis- 
tency and permanence, and that unfit forms, though they 
may often arise, must sooner or later be destroyed, and 
must especially succumb in the struggle for existence. But 
neither of these views would suffice for a complete settle- 
ment of the problem of design, unless two fundamental 
facts in the region of organic life which seem to point to 
different explanations could first be got rid of. These facts 
are : (i) the reciprocity and co-operation of several and 
sometimes very numerous organs and parts of organs in one 
common function ; (2) the structure of the organs, and 
especially of the organs of sense in animal life, with their 
wonderful suitability to the influence of outward agents. 
Science, invincible science, has not yet despaired of finding 
the key to these great riddles, though the expectations 
which attended the birth of Darwin's attempt at solution 
in the middle of the nineteenth century have been some- 
what disappointed in the progress of research, till the most 
advanced thinkers of to-day recognize in his " spontaneous 
variation" and "survival of the fittest" only one of the 
factors required instead of their totality. But, be this as it 
may, the Atomists' experiment in the mechanical explana- 
tion of nature proved eminently fertile far more so, in 
point of fact, than the opposite theories which paused at an 
earlier stage on the path of research, and set a premature 


goal to the pursuit of knowledge, whether by the assump- 
tion of supernatural intervention or by the Introduction 
of equivocal forces defying all exact demarcation, such as 
the " vital force " of the earlier vitalists. 

10. In the doctrine of Democritus there were no immov- 
able barriers between the several departments of terrestrial 
phenomena, and the philosopher at the same time withheld 
his assent from the plausible division of the universe into 
essentially different regions. He recognized no contrast 
between the sublunary world of change and the changeless 
steadiness of the divine stars, important and fatal though that 
difference became in the Aristotelian system. At this point 
Democritus was once more fully in agreement not merely 
with the opinions of great men like Galilei, who released 
modern science from the fetters of Aristotelianism, but even 
with the actual results of the investigations of the last 
three centuries. It is almost miraculous to observe how 
the mere dropping of the scales from his eyes gave Demo- 
critus a glimpse of the revelation which we owe to the 
telescope and to spectrum analysis. In listening to Demo- 
critus, with his accounts of an infinitely large number of 
worlds different in size, some of them attended by a 
quantity of moons, others without sun or moon, some of 
them waxing and others waning after a collision, others 
again devoid of every trace of fluid, we seem to hear the 
voice of a modern astronomer who has seen the moons of 
Jupiter, has recognized the lack of moisture in the neigh- 
bourhood of the moon, and has observed the nebulae and 
obscured stars which the wonderful instruments that have 
now been invented have made visible to his eyes. Yet this 
consentaneity rested on scarcely anything else than the 
absence of a powerful prejudice concealing the real state 
of things, and on a bold but not an over-bold assumption 
that in the infinitude of time and space the most diverse 
possibilities have been realized and fulfilled. So far as 
the endless multiformity of the atoms is concerned, that 
assumption has not won the favour of modern science, but 
it has been completely vindicated in respect to cosmic 
processes and transformations, It may legitimately be 


said that the Democritean theory of the universe deposed 
in principle the geocentric point of view. Nor would it 
be unfair to suppose that Democritus smoothed the way 
for its actual deposition at the hands of Aristarchus of 
Samos. We shall return to this subject in a subsequent 
chapter, where we shall have to show the partially hidden 
threads by which Democritus is bound no less to the 
Copernicus of antiquity than to the great physicists of 
Alexandria and their disciple Archimedes, and by which 
Archimedes in his turn is connected with Galilei and other 
pioneers of modern science. 

To-day, as two thousand years ago, the question is 
asked whether our earth is the only home of living 
beings, and our experience is still without data on 
which to base a reply. But Democritus and those who 
thought with him are not necessarily to be charged with 
temerity because they refused to make an exception in 
that respect in favour of the one star of which our know- 
ledge is exact Democritus contended that only a few 
worlds were without animals and plants because the requi- 
site fluid was lacking which should supply them with 
nourishment And this dictum of the sage is especially 
remarkable, inasmuch as it was obviously based on the 
assumption of the uniformity of the universe in the sub- 
stances composing it and in the laws controlling it which the 
sidereal physics of our own day has proved beyond dispute. 
He evinced the same spirit which animated Metrodorus of 
Chios, himself a Democritean, in his brilliant parable : " a 
single ear of corn on a wide-spreading champaign would 
not be more wonderful than a single cosmos in the infini- 
tude of space." 

The genius of Democritus did not stop at anticipating 
modem cosmology, but inherent in those speculations was 
his yet more striking view of life. How petty must man 
appear ; how worthless his aims, pursued by most of us 
with such breathless haste; how great his modesty and 
humility, how small fyis arrogance and pride, if the 
world he lives in is deprived of every prerogative, if it 
loses all claim to unique distinction, and becomes in his 


eyes a grain of sand on the shore of the infinite ! Here, we 
venture to believe, is the key to the ethics of Democritus. 
Posterity has characterized the sage as "the laughing 
philosopher," because he saw the disproportion of the 
business of man with his actual place and meaning. Un- 
fortunately, the sources from which we are accustomed and, 
to some extent, constrained to draw for the details of his 
moral philosophy, are mostly troubled and untrustworthy, 
but we know enough of one of his chief ethical treatises 
to sketch in outline at least a portion of its tenour. 
It treated of the tranquillity of the soul, of its tvQvfda, or 
"cheerfulness," was remarkable for the modesty 
of the goal which it set before human endeavour. Not 
bliss, not happiness, was the end to be attained, but a 
state of bare "well-being," of a souFs peace undis- 
tracted alike by superstitious fears as by overmastering 
passions, of a "composure" or equanimity similar to 
the "smooth mirror" of the stormless sea. The treatise 
opened with a description of the miserable condition 
of the majority of mankind, ever unquiet, ever impelled 
on a vain search for happiness, now seizing one thing and 
now another, without obtaining permanent satisfaction. 
The immoderateness of human desires, the neglect of the 
narrow limits by which mortal happiness is confined, the 
disturbances wrought by superstition on man's peace of 
mind, these, it would seem, were the chief sources of un- 
happiness, as characterized by Democritus. Our authorities 
deny us the pleasure of reconstructing these fundamental 
ideas in all their brilliant detail. In the large quantity of 
the so-called utterances of Democritus in the field of moral 
philosophy there is much that is demonstrably false, and 
in the rest of the fragments the critics have not yet suc- 
ceeded in sifting the false from the true. Still, there are 
many statements with a distinctive individuality of inspira- 
tion and style which one would fain claim as the genuine 
property of the sage. Foremost among these is the 
brilliant fragment, unluckily very much mutilated, but yet 
capable of restoration with practical certainty, in which the 
worst evil of democratic institutions is assailed. It attacks 


the dependence of the authorities on the judgment of the 
populace on the very persons, accordingly, whom it is 
their bounden duty to hold in check. This significant 
fragment must have run more or less as follows : 

" In the existing order of the State it is not possible that the 
rulers should never do wrong, even though they be the very best. 
As things are, it is like delivering the (royal) eagle into the power 
of the reptiles. But some means ought to be devised to ensure that, 
however severely he may punish the evildoers, yet he should not 
be given over into their power. Rather some law or other institu- 
tion ought to guarantee complete protection to him who dispenses 

The genuineness, perhaps, of no one of these fragments 
can be warranted beyond all possibility of doubt ; their 
totality, however, paradoxical as it may sound, is none the 
less characteristic of the ethics of Democritus. For let us 
conceive how great a recoil from his exclusively mechanical 
view of nature was made by heathen no less than by Chris- 
tian orthodoxy. And yet, despite that recoil, Christian and 
heathen writers of antiquity vied with one another in their 
eagerness to fill the mouth of the founder of Atomism with 
a series of utterances, each and all of which were stamped 
with the seal of sublime sentiment, and were designed to lead 
human life on a path of noble aspiration. Whence, then, 
it may fairly be asked, could this impression have been 
derived, save from the genuine works of Democritus? 
They must have borne the stamp of a personality exciting, 
or, rather, irresistibly compelling men's admiration and awe ; 
they can have contained no word that could have given 
.even the weakest handle to the misinterpretation or depre- 
ciation of prejudice or partisanship. Even at this day a 
widespread prejudice exists, to the effect that there is a 
necessary connection between scientific materialism and 
what may be called ethical materialism. But nothing is 
better calculated to dispel that obstinate prejudice than the 
picture of the sage of Abdera as it was known to antiquity 
and as tradition has preserved it unimpaired. 

VOL. I. 




I. WITH the promulgation of the Atomic theory, a halt 
was called to the endeavours of more than one century at 
solving the problem of matter. It might be thought that 
an hypothesis which has maintained itself for over two 
thousand years would succeed in satisfying contemporary 
thought and in providing a starting-point for the immediate 
further progress of knowledge. But there were many 
obstacles in the way. The art of experimentation and the 
mathematical sciences were still imperfect, and the fruitful 
germ that was contained in atomism did not fall on a 
fortunate soil. A second circumstance which hindered the 
supremacy of the new doctrine was the traditional respect 
enjoyed by its older rivals. The shifting shapes successively 
assumed by material monism were calculated, as we have 
already seen reason to believe,* to cancel one another in 
turn, to destroy the exclusive validity of every one of the 
old theories of matter, and even to arouse a scepticism 
which affected the evidence of the senses themselves and 
shook the common basis of the doctrine. But here a second 
effect followed inevitably from these causes. Purely negative 
or merely sceptical results rarely satisfy more than a small 
part of the minds that are athirst for knowledge. Moreover, 
the contrast between the distinctive individual doctrines oi 
a Thales, an Anaximenes, a Heraclitus, and so forth was 
counterbalanced by the underlying harmony of theii 
fundamental assumptions. Meantime, too, other importanl 
* Bk, II. Ch. II. 


doctrines, promulgated by important men, had arrived on 
the scene. Nothing, then, was more natural than the 
attempt to reconcile these authorities one with another, 
to put prominently forward the elements they contained 
in common, and to touch up and transform those teach- 
ings by which they were kept apart. This attempt was 
considerably facilitated by the following circumstance. 
All the ways open, or at least those open in the ex- 
isting state of knowledge, to a solution of the problems 
of the universe had already been trodden. Compromise 
and eclecticism, these are the redeeming words. Under 
their sign stood a series of new systems, which now 
come into view, and which form the real conclusion 
of the era of research, at the several stages of which 
we have made so long a pause. In a previous chapter 
we have made the acquaintance of Hippasus of Meta- 
pontum,* an eclectic philosopher of this kind, who sought 
to reconcile the teaching of Heraclitus with that of 
Pythagoras, and we shall presently have to consider other 
representatives of that movement. Its most distinguished 
member was Diogenes of Apollonia. He was a native of 
Crete, an island prominent in Greek history in the dawn 
of the fine arts, but without significance in her literary 
development, and it was perhaps the fame of Anaxagoras 
which attracted him from those distant shores to the 
learned capital of Athens, where his attitude as a free- 
thinker involved him in a perilous experience similar to 
that which attended the great philosopher of Clazomenae. 
A comprehensive anatomical fragment of his treatise " On 
the Nature of Man " gives evidence of his familiarity with 
the medical knowledge of his age, and supports the con- 
jecture that he was himself a professional physician. The 
object at which he aimed was to harmonize Anaxagoras 
with Anaximenes, or, more exactly said, to harmonize the 
Nous-theory of the one with the other's theory of matter. 
In a less degree he stood under the influence of Leucippus, 
from whom he had borrowed the doctrine of the cosmogonic 
vortex, and echoes of whose expressions he reproduces, as, 
* Cp. Bk. I. Ch. V, 


for instance, in his favourite word "necessity." Nor can 
we doubt, from the ridicule that was poured on him by 
the comic writers, and from the references to his doctrine 
in the dramas of Euripides no less than in professional 
treatises on medicine, that Diogenes of Apollonia was 
one of the foremost figures in the age of Pericles. 

We are not dependent, however, on merely indirect 
testimony for the contents of the system of Diogenes, 
which, it must be conceded, was conspicuously wanting in 
originality and consistency. We possess comparatively 
extensive fragments of his masterwork " On Nature," and 
these thoroughly justify, by their elevated yet simple style 
and unambiguous clarity, the claims to literary distinction 
which he advanced in the preface to his book. Thus 
they provide us with a remarkably clear insight into the 
motive and methods of his inquiry, and they frequently 
tell us in express language what, in the instance of his 
predecessors, we could only ascertain inferentially. Nor 
does this apply least of all to the fundamental motive of 
the monistic theory of matter itself. Its truth was 
established by Diogenes to his own satisfaction in the 
following words : 

" If that which is now in this world, earth and water and 
.whatever else plainly existeth in this world, if one of these were 
different from the rest, if it were different by its own nature, and 
not rather the same, though frequently changed and altered, then 
neither would objects be able to mingle with one another, nor 
could one object affect another, prejudicially or beneficially ; then, 
too, no plant could grow out of the earth, no animal or anything 
else be born, if it were not the same according to its composition. 
Nay, but all this proceedeth from the same, becometh by alteration 
some other thing at some other time, and returneth to the same 
again. 57 

Diogenes was further strongly influenced by the 
teleological argument of Anaxagoras. 

" For it is impossible," he wrote, " that everything should thus 
be distributed without intelligence [more exactly, without the 
intervention of a Nous], that summer and winter, night and day, 


rain, wind, sunshine, and all else, should be regulated by measure. 
And he who reflecteth over this and the rest, will find that it is 
arranged as beautifully as possible." 

We see, however, that Diogenes was not satisfied with 
the Nous-theory of Anaxagoras. He felt himself con- 
strained to supplement it by the older air-theory of 
Anaximenes, and two causes may have induced him to 
take this step. The theory of matter promulgated by 
Anaxagoras may well have appeared to him as absurd 
and unjustified as it actually is. We venture to infer this 
from the fact that he simply dropped it. On the other hand, 
he was obviously anxious to relate the Nous, or the principle 
of order in the universe, with one or other of the forms of 
matter with which we are acquainted. In that way alone 
did its government, its universal diffusion and efficacy, seem 
to him comprehensible and explicable. He tells us this 
himself in the following unequivocal words: 

" And that which possesseth the intelligence seemeth to me to be 
what men call air, and this it is in my opinion that governeth and 
controlleth all things. For from air, meseemeth, doth Nous 
proceed, and" by means of this vehicle " penetrateth uni- 
versally, ordereth all things, and existeth in all. And there is no 
single object that is without its share, but none hath the same 
share as another. There are rather many varieties of air, as of 
intelligence itself. For it is of many kinds, now colder and now 
warmer, now drier and now moister, now quieter and now more 
violently moving, and it displayeth countless other differences in 
respect to smell and colour. Moreover, the soul of all living things 
is the same, namely air, which is wanner than the external air 
surrounding us, though much colder than the air about the sun. 
But, comparatively speaking, this heat is not the same in any two 
animals or in any two men. The difference is not considerable ; 
it is sufficient to exclude complete equality, though not to exclude 
similarity. But of all things liable to change, no one thing can 
become any other thing before it hath become the same." 

In other words, the necessary condition and inter- 
mediate step for the issue of one particular form of matter 
from another is its preliminary transition through the 
primary form of matter. 


" Since the alteration is of many kinds," continued Diogenes, 
" so too are living beings, and in consequence of the great number of 
alterations they resemble one another neither in appearance, nor 
in mode of life, nor in intelligence. Nevertheless that by which 
all of them live, and see, and hear is one and the same, and the 
rest of their intelligence cometh to them all from the same, namely, 
from air." 

The conclusion of a second fragment, from which we 
have already quoted, supplies the evidence for the last of 
these statements. 

" Moreover," it runs, " this too is a powerful proof. Man and 
the rest of the animals live by the air they breathe. This is 
their soul as well as their intelligence, and when it departeth from 
them they die, and their intelligence leaveth them." 

Diogenes further entitled that primary being "an 
eternal and immortal body," or substance ; at another 
time he called it "a great, mighty, eternal, immortal, and 
multiscient being," and occasionally, too, he spoke of it as 
the "deity." 

It is hardly necessary to discuss in detail all the 
teachings of Diogenes as they were expounded in his 
"Theory of Heaven" as well as in the two treatises we 
have mentioned. He was an encyclopaedist whose mobile 
genius traversed all the fields of knowledge which the 
science of his age had discovered. He derived his 
impulses from every side, he learned from all masters, 
and, though he never completely reconciled either for 
himself or for his readers all their various teachings, yet 
he impressed on them the common seal of his own mind. 
All the roads of investigation which his predecessors had 
trodden led him to his principle of air, and the secret of 
the success he attained lay in his combination of versatility 
and one-sidedness, of indiscriminate eclecticism united 
with an obstinate consistency. There were many mansions 
in the house of his eclectic system. It contained the 
mechanical theory of the universe, the teleological view of 
nature, material monism, and the rule of an intelligent 
principle in matter. It did not abandon the doctrine of a 


single primary substance, which had been familiar to 
Greek learning for several generations. It did not reject 
the assumption of a directing principle which adapted 
means to ends, indispensable in the recent opinion of 
many thinkers. The origin of cosmos in the blind 
government of Necessity had been admirably argued and 
widely adopted, and this doctrine too was an ingredient in 
the new philosophic cauldron. The vortex of Leucippus 
found a place side by side with the Nous of Anaxagoras, 
and the Nous had to make up its mind to live at peace 
with the air-god of Anaximenes. Nor was there anything 
in the new-fangled science to shock the beliefs of the 
orthodox. Homer, declared Diogenes, was not the 
author of myths or fairy tales ; he merely used such aids 
as a vehicle for telling the truth. His Zeus was air and 
nothing but air. In other words, Diogenes was the first 
to break fresh ground in introducing the allegorical 
method in national poetry and religion. In this he was 
the forerunner of the Stoics, who owed to him likewise, 
through the intervention of the Cynics, several of their 
doctrines In physics. 

And now for the reverse of the medal, where we reach 
the extreme one-sidedness of Diogenes, who affected to 
recognize in all phenomena, physical, cosmological, physio- 
logical, and even psychical, the operation of a single prin- 
ciple of matter. Air, in his opinion, was the vehicle of 
all sense-perception. In imitation doubtless of Leucippus, 
he explained visual perception as an impression made by 
the object perceived on the pupil of the eye through the 
medium of air, but he added the original complementary 
explanation that the pupil communicated the impression 
to the brain through the same medium once more. We 
may remark, by way of parenthesis, that he probably learnt 
from Alcmseon to regard the brain as the sensorium proper. 
Further, Diogenes was acquainted with the inflammation 
of the nerve of sight and with the blindness that results 
from it, a process which he explained in the following 
manner. The nerve he regarded as a vein, and he believed 
that the vein, when inflamed, hindered the entrance of the 


air into the brain, and thus prevented the visual per- 
ception, though the picture might appear on the pupil cf 
the eye. Man's higher intelligence, in the opinion of this 
thinker, was the boon of his upright gait. He breathed a 
purer air than the four-legged animals who walked with 
their heads bowed earthwards ; and this view, that they 
inhaled an air tainted by the moistures of the soil, was 
applied by Diogenes in a less degree to children also with 
their smaller stature. Air and its influence on the blood 
were likewise invoked to explain the passions as well. 
When the nature of the air was unsuited to mingle with 
the blood, which became accordingly less mobile and more 
coagulated, a feeling of pain was produced ; and, in the 
contrary instance, when the movement of the blood was 
accelerated by air, the result was a sensation of pleasure. 
Here, however, we may fitly pause. Though this theory, 
owing to the reasons we have mentioned above, did not 
fail to exercise a powerful influence on its author's contem- 
poraries, yet its omissions incurred the biting criticism of 
posterity, and its absurdities were the butt of the ridicule 
of the comic Muse. Thus Theophrastus, in his brilliant 
critical review of the psychology of Diogenes, exclaimed 
that the birds should surpass us in understanding, if it be 
true that the purity of the air we breathe is the measure 
of the excellence and refinement of our reason. Why, he 
asked, should not our whole thought be changed with every 
change of residence according as we breathe the air of the 
mountains or the marshes ? The erudite pupil of Aristotle 
found himself for once in striking agreement with "the 
undisciplined favourite of the Graces," for Aristophanes in 
his "Clouds," produced in the year 423 B.C., lashed with 
his biting satire the most diverse manifestations of the era 
of enlightenment, and did not spare, as has long since been 
remarked, the doctrines of the sage of Apollonia. We 
hear this in the blasphemous cry, " Long live King Vortex, 
who has dethroned Zeus ; " we see it in the spectacle of 
Socrates swinging in his basket above the earth in order 
to inhale the purest intelligence through an atmosphere 
undefiled by the moisture of the soil ; we mark it again in 


the goddess " Respiration " to whom the Socratic disciples 
lift up their hands in prayer ; and we discern it finally in 
the Chorus of the Cloud-women, who were provided with 
enormous noses in order to take in as much of the spirit 
of the air as possible. Each and all of these examples of 
the wit of Aristophanes were aimed at the philosophy of 
Diogenes, and were doubtless received in the theatre at 
Athens with storms of laughter and applause, 

2. The derision of the philosophy of the age was not 
confined to Aristophanes. An older comic writer, the 
bibulous poet Cratinus, devoted one of his dramas to that 
theme. It was called "The Omniscients" (irav6irraL) y a 
title properly applied only to Zeus himself and to Argus, 
the thousand-eyed guardian of lo, but here extended to 
characterize with bitter satire the adepts of philosophy who 
affected to hear the grass grow. The " Omniscients " who 
formed the Chorus of the play were recognizable at once 
by their masks composed of two heads and countless eyes. 
The butt of the satire in this instance was not Diogenes, 
but Hippo Hippo the atheist, either alone or with others, 
who had come to Athens from Lower Italy, if not from 
Samos. We are but imperfectly acquainted with the 
life and work of this thinker, of whose writings there sur- 
vives but a single brief fragment, and whom Aristotle 
reckoned as one of the " coarser " minds, hardly deserving 
the name of philosopher, on account of "the tenuity of his 
thought." We range him here with the eclectics because 
he was obviously at pains to weld the teachings of Parme- 
nides with those of Thales. Thus the van of his cosmic 
process was led by "the moist," from which "the cold" 
and " the warm " (water .and fire) proceeded, with fire as 
the active cosmogonic principle, and water as the passive 

Nearer to Diogenes than Hippo was Archelaus, a native 
of Athens or Miletus. He was known as a disciple of 
Anaxagoras, though he transformed his master's teaching 
so considerably that he may almost be said to have reformed 
it on older models. His cosmogony in especial bore the 
traces of these differences. He did not admit the application 


of Nous to matter from outside in order to organize it and to 
mould it to a cosmos. Archelaus, if we have understood the 
evidence aright, was rather of opinion that Nous was origi- 
nally inherent to matter, and in that respect he approached 
more closely to the older representatives of the philosophy 
of nature, and likewise, it is legitimate to add, to the spirit 
of the old Greek view of the world. Taking these facts in 
connection with his craving to discern something divine in 
substance a craving that was not satisfied by the dispersion 
of matter whether into infinitesimally small "seeds" or 
into the atoms of Leucippus it was but natural that Arche- 
laus employed himself similarly to Diogenes of Apollonia 
in building a serviceable bridge between the doctrines of 
Anaxagoras and Anaximenes. He did not reject the 
countless elements which the sage of Clazomense had 
entitled "seeds" or o/zoto^lpacu ; but the great material 
forms which had played the chief part in the theory of the 
"physiologists" were again brought into prominence. The 
primary form of those "seeds," and at the same time the 
seat of Nous, the intellectual principle which first regulated 
cosmos, was represented by air, as the most immaterial, 
so to say, of material substances. Out of this intermediate 
stage fire and water, the vehicles of motion and rest, were 
produced by rarefaction and condensation, or by the dis- 
junction and conjunction of the "seeds." It is hardly 
necessary to remind the reader that Archelaus was influenced 
at this point, not merely by the philosophy of Anaximenes, 
but by that of Parmenides, if not of Anaximander himself. 
A higher degree of originality would appear to attach to his 
attempt to describe the rudiments of human society and 
the fundamental conceptions of Ethics and Politics. To 
this, however, we shall have to return in another connection. 
3. Another pupil of Anaxagoras was Metrodorus of 
Lampsacus. He displayed the same desire to reconcile 
the old with the new, to harmonize, in the present instance, 
the new science with the old faith. Unfortunately, our first 
impression of his allegorical key to Homer is one of disgust 
at its grotesque extravagance. We cannot conceive what 
induced him to identify Agamemnon with ether, Achilles 


with the sun, Hector with the moon, Paris and Helen with 
the air and the earth, or to establish a parallel between 
portions of the animal body, the liver, the spleen, and the 
bile, on the one part, and Demeter, Dionysus, and Apollo 
on the other. We are reminded by these experiments of 
the worst excesses of the interpreters of the myths in our 
own day, not to speak of kindred fantastic exercises of 
other epochs, in all of which the desire is manifest to dis- 
cover in sacred writings, the literal truth of which can no 
longer be upheld, the mere husk of completely different 
beliefs. We may recall, for instance, the Greek Jew, Philo 
of Alexandria, with his religious philosophy, who perceived 
in the garden of Eden the symbol of the divine wisdom, 
in the four streams that issued from it the four cardinal 
virtues, in the altar and tabernacle the "intelligible" or 
ideal objects of cognition, and so forth. Rightly, indeed, 
did Ernest Renan remark about Philo's allegorizing inter- 
pretation of the scriptures, that the root of his method, 
which was fraught with such important consequences, alien 
though it be to the true spirit of science, is founded in piety, 
and not in arbitrary wantonness. " Before one determines/* 
he wrote, " to reject the teachings of a cherished faith " (or 
the authority of highly-esteemed writings) " one has recourse 
to every kind of identification, even to the most untenable ; " 
one has recourse, that is to say, to explanations which 
create a sense of wild absurdity outside the charmed circle of 
believers. In the present instance Metrodorus was entering 
and courageously pursuing a path which had been opened 
long before his day. Already in the sixth century Thea- 
genes of Rhegium had applied the panacea of allegory to 
the authority of Homer which Xenophanes had assailed so 
bitterly. The battle of the gods in the twentieth book of 
the Iliad had given considerable offence. The sound 
reason, not to speak of the sound morality, of mankind 
had naturally been scandalized by the sight of the heavenly 
powers, who had come to be regarded more and more as 
the types of a uniform order in nature as in conduct, joined 
in actual hand-to-hand combat. The scandal had to 
be explained away, and an expedient was found in the 


sense that the Homeric deities represented partly inimical 
elements, partly contrary qualities of human nature. A 
kind of handle was afforded for the first of these categories 
of explanation by the fact that Hephsestus the god of fire, 
and Poseidon the lord of the sea, the twins Apollo and 
Artemis, who, if not originally identical with the sun and 
the moon, were at least frequently identified with those 
divinities, and lastly Xanthus the river-god, were all par- 
ticipants in the fight. Another considerable aid was the 
inexhaustible stores of etymology which the ancients found 
so malleable, and all kinds of moralizing reflections were 
added, among which may be mentioned the happy thought, 
worthy of an Elihu Burritt, that Ares the war-god was the 
personification of un-reason, and was thus the antagonist 
of reason incarnate in Athene. In this connection we first 
meet the name of Theagenes as the earliest " apologist " 
for the Homeric poems. Even Democritus and Anaxa- 
goras did not disdain to contribute their mite to the 
allegorical interpretation of the national poetry ; Diogenes 
of Apollonia has already been mentioned in the same 
context ; and in Antisthenes, the disciple of Socrates, we 
shall meet yet another representative of the movement,' 
which passed from the keeping of his followers, the Cynics, 
into that of the Stoic school, where it attained its highest 



I. THE constant increase in the attempts to effect a com- 
promise between the old and the new in the national 
view of the universe and human life helps us to measure 
the gulf which had opened between the two. Our readers 
are already acquainted with the chief manifestations of 
this cleavage. They have learnt of the silent growth of 
the empirical knowledge of nature. They have seen the 
spirit of criticism seeking its springs of nourishment in the 
deepened speculation of philosophers, in the wider intel- 
lectual horizon, revealed by geographers and ethnologists, 
in the schools of disputatious physicians, and in the larger 
faith in sense-perception, as opposed to arbitrary assump- 
tions of all kinds, which resulted from that cause. Here, then, 
we must go back in order to go forward. We must inquire 
into the changes undergone by Greek politics and society 
since the age of the tyrants,* in order to extend our survey 
of the progress of Hellenic civilization. In Athens, which 
is henceforward to be considei'ed as the seat and centre of 
the Greek mind, the social struggle, as elsewhex-e, had ended 
with the victory of the middle classes. The privileges of 
the nobles had been more and more curtailed, and a cor- 
responding impulse had been given, at the expense of the 
landed interest, to the influence of the mobile wealth 
derived from industry and trade. The population of the 
city had been increased by rural and foreign immigrants, and 
the new residents, who included many emancipated slaves* 
* Cf> Bk. I., Intro., 3. 


were added in larger numbers to the civic lists. The 
reforms of Clisthenes (509 B.C.), which followed swiftly 
on the downfall of the Pisistratidee, had been expressly 
designed to bring about the inner reconciliation of these 
diverse elements in Athens, and a chief factor in this move- 
ment, which finally ended in a fully developed democracy, 
was supplied by the Persian wars. The nation was threat- 
ened by an enemy in overwhelming force, who could only 
be met with any prospect of success by a rally of all the 
powers at its disposal. At an earlier date, as we saw, the 
rise of the heavy-armed middle-class infantry and the decline 
of the mounted nobles produced far-reaching effects, and 
this experience was now repeated in the employment of 
the masses for service at sea. Universal conscription was 
followed in a score or so of years by universal suffrage. 
Athens, resting on her sea-power, became the head of a 
confederacy which gradually transformed the conditions of 
economic as well as of political life. She enjoyed lucrative 
commercial monopolies ; she derived a rich income from 
the tolls, and from the tributes and judiciary fees of the 
confederates ; and, finally, the confiscated lands of a rene- 
gade ally would fall to her from time to time for repartition. 
By these means she was enabled to meet the cost of a 
numerous civil population. The democracy built on this 
foundation became the model for the states dependent 
on Athens, and was imitated by various communities 
outside of the federation. And whether the sceptre 
wielded by the democrats was moderate or unlimited, the 
chief instrument of government in practically the whole of 
Greece was the power of the tongue. More than this. It 
was not merely in the council-chamber and the popular 
assembly that the efficacy of speech was supreme. In the 
law courts too, where hundreds of jurymen would some- 
times be sitting together, words were the universal weapons, 
the clever manipulation of which was more than half the 
battle. The gift and faculty of speech were the sole road 
to honour and power. And speech, too, was the sole pro- 
tection against injustice of every kind. Without that weapon 
a man was exposed to the dangers of hostile attack, in his 


own city and in times of peace, as hopelessly and defence- 
lessly as a warrior without sword or shield on the battle- 
field. It is not to be wondered at, therefore, that the 
art of speech should have been cultivated for the first 
time in the democratic communities of that age as 
a profession, and that it should have assumed a promi- 
nent if not actually the first place in the education of 
the young. But the art of rhetoric is double-faced ; it 
is half dialectic, and half style or grammar. Its would- 
be masters were required to attain to an infallible certainty 
of expression, in addition to complying with the demands 
on their quickness of thought and on their control 
of the manifold principles regulating public life in all 
its various departments. Nor was the tendency of the 
times exhausted by the increased variety and earnestness 
in the ideals of formal culture. Thought and research 
were supplied with new riches and resources by the prob- 
lems of political life which sprang from the transformation 
of society and State, and which were grasped and attacked 
with passionate devotion. Every one was interested in the 
results of the discussion, and the conflict of opinions and 
sentiments took as lively a course as the struggle of interests 
itself. And the science of politics, like that of its formal 
handmaiden, rhetoric, quickened the intellectual movement 
on several sides at once. The question of right and wrong 
in certain particular circumstances led by a very slight tran- 
sition to the second and wider question of political justice in 
general. Nor did the awakened curiosity pause at the con- 
fines of politics. It was inevitable that it should extend its 
barriers to embrace all spheres of human activity and 
business. In other words, the study of politics led to the 
study of economics, of education, of the arts, and especially 
of ethics. Moreover, when the inquiry had been widened to 
include the rules of human action, it gave rise to a further 
investigation into the sources of those rules and into the 
origin of State and of society. To complete our picture of 
the factors at work in that age we must recollect its intel- 
lectual conditions. The critical spirit, with its hostile attitude 
towards authority, was already in full vigour, and the social 


and political life of the fifth century must obviously have 
reinforced its powers. The foundation of all criticism is 
comparative observation, and in this respect the Greeks 
were fortunate in their contact with foreign populations, 
though it occurred by way of conflict during the Persian 
wars. Even more significant, perhaps, was the develop- 
ment of commercial and personal intercourse within the 
pale of the Attic naval confederacy. Considerable portions 
of the wide and scattered dominions of Hellas were now 
included in a common league. A constant stream of 
travellers was passing between the capital and the outlying 
members of the confederation, familiarizing reciprocally the 
Greeks of Athens with those of Asia Minor and the 
islands. The crowding of the cities largely by immigra- 
tion from other parts of Greece and from abroad must 
have assisted that exchange of information and opinion 
which has been aptly defined as the friction of intellects. 
Finally, we must recollect the introduction of foreign cults 
which ensued on the Persian wars, and which led to a 
notable growth of religious sects in Athens. Burghers, 
metics, and visitors were united on the same spot ; the 
'autocracy of the established faith was broken down, and 
thus, indirectly at least, a considerable step was taken 
towards the emancipation of thought 

2. These, then, so far as we can judge, were the con- 
'ditions and circumstances obtaining in Greece at the time 
of her great intellectual progress, and of its contribution 
to the history of the world. Moral or mental philosophy 
took its place by the side of the natural philosophy that had 
preceded it, and its scope was at once the fullest possible, 
though its powers were somewhat limited. For, having 
sprung from practical needs, it was unable to repudiate its 
connection with the soil of practice. Hence, indeed, were 
derived its freshness and its warmth of pulsating life, but 
hence, too, in many cases, its marked defect in logical 
rigour and systematic completeness. Moreover, its flight 
was hampered by another restraining fetter, which, con- 
sisting as it did of the search for artistic diction, might 
be called a chain of flowers. Apart, perhaps, from the 


professional rhetoricians, there was no expert public in any 
of these fields of learning. The art of rhetoric was supplied 
with dry and dreary, but methodical, text-books, but in 
other departments of knowledge the professors had to 
appeal to the cultured classes in general, whose pampered 
taste had to be tempted by all kinds of artifices of style. 
It is only on the heights of learning that a permanent union 
can be effected between beauty and truth. In laying the 
foundations of a science, and particularly of a science the 
fundamental conceptions of which require above all a 
clearness of outline and a sharpness of demarcation, the 
popularizing method is almost incompatible with success. 
In the age with which we are dealing, several excellent 
men were concerned in the attempt to overcome this 
difficulty. There was Prodicus, whose reputation rests on 
his studies in the differences of synonyms, and chief of all 
there was Socrates, the son of Sophroniscus, whose labours 
were at once the least pretentious and the most fruitful of 
results. His unadorned dialogues rose from the homeliest 
to the highest themes. He paused at every step to Inter- 
rupt the flow of thought in order to test its depth and 
purity. Each fresh conception had to deliver its passport 
in the course of cross-examination ; every slumbering doubt 
was awakened ; every hidden contradiction was exposed ; 
and thus a splendid contribution was made to that sifting 
and purifying of fundamental ideas of which this early age 
stood in the greatest need. 

In a later volume of the present work we shall be 
occupied with the name of Socrates, but here we may 
remark that if he surpassed the majority of his contem- 
poraries at this point, he was fully in agreement with them 
at another. We refer to that heightened respect for reason 
and reflection as the supreme arbiters of human affairs 
which may perhaps be termed Intellectualism. This intel- 
lectualism was by far the most characteristic feature of the 
age. On the soil of Italy and Sicily, in particular, the new 
confidence which was produced by the reign of criticism and 
by the revolt from authority, went hand- in-hand with the 
growth of refinement of thought. Our readers will recollect 
VOL. I. 2 C 


the subtle and pointed arguments of Zeno of Elea, and, 
about fifty years earlier, Charondas, the legislator at Catania, 
had filled his office in a manner which won from Aristotle 
the praise that " by his sharpness and subtlety he has 
surpassed even the lawgivers of to-day." One example may 
stand as a type. The law of Charondas relating to the 
guardianship of orphans distributed their care between the 
relatives on the father's and on the mother's side, giving 
the first-named the charge of their fortune, and the second 
the charge of their person. Thus the administration of 
their fortune was committed to the hands of their presump- 
tive heirs, who would have the greatest interest in increas- 
ing it, and the life and health of the orphans were entrusted 
to those of their relatives who would have no sinister 
motive to injure them. Meantime the conscious art of 
life, which aimed at reducing practice to fixed and reason- 
able laws, had made uninterrupted progress. The time had 
come when undisciplined empiricism had more and more 
to give way to the conscious rule of art. There was hardly 
any department of life which remained unaffected by that 
tendency. What was not reformed was codified, and both 
processes went almost hand-in-hand. Professional author- 
ship took its rise on all sides ; a profusion of text-books was 
poured forth ; all the business of mankind, from cooking a 
dinner to painting a picture, from going a walk to waging a 
war, was guided by rules and, where possible, reduced to 
principles. A few examples will help to make this clearer, 
Mithaecus discussed the art of cooking ; Democritus the 
philosopher wrote on tactics and warfare ; Herodicus of 
Selymbria made a systematic study of diet as a branch of 
science separate from medicine ; and even the treatment 
of horses was professionally described by Simo. All depart- 
ments of the fine arts were theoretically elaborated. Lasus 
of Hermione, who, as early as the sixth century B.C., had 
added to the means of musical expression and supplied 
them with a basis of theory, now found several followers, 
among whom may be mentioned Damon, a personal friend 
of Pericles, and Hippias of Elis, who lectured on rhythm 
and harmony. Sophocles, too, following in the steps of an 


otherwise unknown Agatharchus, did not consider it beneath 
him to write a technical treatise on the stage ; and the 
great sculptor Polycletus reduced in his " Canon " the 
proportions of human anatomy to numerical equivalents. 
Democritus discussed the theory of painting, and both he 
and Anaxagoras were authors of treatises on the perspec- 
tive of the stage. Agriculture, too, which was first raised 
to the dignity of literature by Hesiod in his peasants' 
calendar, the " Works and Days," was likewise treated by 
Democritus as a subject of philosophic discussion. Nor 
did the practitioners of prophecy or soothsaying lack their 
handbooks. Nothing was to be left any more to the 
mercy of chance or caprice. Urban architecture was re- 
formed by Hippodamus of Miletus, a man of marked 
originality, who displayed his love of innovation even in 
his clothing and headdress, and we may perhaps regard 
the rectilineal and rectangular system of streets which 
Hippodamus introduced as a symbol of the increasing 
demand for the universal rule of reason. 

3. An age of eager and restless innovation will spon- 
taneously ask itself whence are derived right, law, and 
custom. What is the source of their sanction, and what 
are the supreme standards by which to direct the uni- 
versal endeavours at reform? Now, every such inquiry 
beginning with " whence ? " must go back to the origin of 
mankind. Mythology and didactic poetry had long ago 
painted in brilliant hues the raptures of a golden age. 
Hesiod is our earliest authority for this tendency of 
sentiment and thought to throw a halo on the distant past. ' 
It was a tendency which expressed the bias to gloom 
and pessimism by which he and his readers were ' 
affected. For the genius of the Greeks, like that of other 
peoples, escaped to the Elysian fields of past or future 
bliss in reaction from the stress and sorrow of their every- 
day life.* But in a critical epoch triumphing in its own 
culture and looking forward to further progress in that 
unlimited sphere, the picture of the primordial past takes 
a different complexion. An era which believes itself 
* Bk. I. Ch. II. i. 


superior to Its ancestry, which views its own enlightenment 
not without pride, perhaps not without arrogance, is unlikely 
to seek its ideals in the dim spaces of past or future time, 
looking forward to the one with admiration, or back to the 
other with repining. This tendency of sentiment was 
accompanied by some facts of correct perception. It be- 
came a common conviction, we might almost say a self- 
evident commonplace, that the prehistoric ages were 
barbaric. The progress of humankind through the rising 
stages of civilization was a slow and gradual ascent from 
the depths of animal savagery. " Slow and gradual " by 
the evidence of scientific thought which had abandoned its 
belief in supernatural and miraculous intervention, and 
which, in the sphere of natural research, had obtained an 
insight into the method by which the minutest processes 
were gradually consummated to great results. We recollect 
in this connection the rudiments of the theory of descent 
which we found in Anaximander,* and the anticatastrophic 
geology of Xenophanes,f with his complementary view of 
the anticatastrophic course of civilization. We recollect, 
too, the medical writer J who distinguished the men of his 
day from their less civilized ancestors and from the animal 
world in the matter of the culinary art. 

The age of the Troglodytes was no more. They, with 
their ignorance of the plough and of iron instruments of 
all kinds, with their deeds of violence that did not shrink 
from cannibalism, had made way for civilized men who 
sowed the field and planted the vineyard, built their home- 
steads, fortified their cities, and finally had learnt to pay 
funeral honours to the dead. Thus Moschion, the tragic 
poet, who properly belongs to the fourth rather than the 
fifth century B.C., described the origin of civilization, 
leaving it doubtful, however, whether we owed it to the 
philanthropy of the Titan Prometheus, or to the force of 
necessity, or to "long practice" and gradual habituation 
in which " Nature played the part of schoolmistress." Nor 
had the leading men of the fifth century been free from 

* Bk. I. Ch. I. 2. t Bk. II. Ch. I. 3. 

$ Bk. III. Ch. I. 5. 


similar reflections. Take, for instance, the opening verses 
of the tragedy " Sisyphus " by the Athenian statesman 
Critias, or take the title of a lost book by Protagoras of 
Abdera " On the Aboriginal State of Mankind," to which 
Moschion was presumably referring in the first words of 
the fragment we have mentioned, " Let man's first form 
be to your eyes revealed." The dominant conception of 
progress in that fragment of Moschion may be defined as 
organic, for though, as we have seen, it touched incident- 
ally on the legend of Prometheus, yet the weight of its 
attention was given to the effects brought about by Nature, 
by Necessity, by Habit, and above all by "Time, that 
produceth all things and nourisheth all things." The idea 
of development was supreme ; its fruit was the order of 
society. Similarly, in the work of Critias, "the starry 
radiance of heaven " was spoken of as the " handiwork of 
the wise artist, Time." Now, Protagoras had treated these 
problems from a slightly different point of view. We 
might fairly speak of a mechanical or, in the sense we 
have explained, of an intellectualistic view of progress, 
as distinct from the organic. Design, Deliberation, and 
Invention fill the room of Nature, Habit, and uncon- 
scious Instinct So much at least we may infer with 
approximate certainty from Plato's reproduction of that 
description. The account doubtless is partly a travesty, 
but its exaggeration of the details to be caricatured makes 
the features of the original more recognizable. Primeval 
man, so we read, could not gain the victory in his conflict 
with the wild animals, because they did not as yet possess 
the "art of government, of which the art of war is a 
part." Again, their want of the art of government per- 
mitted them to injure one another. The theft of fire, 
which the legend ascribed to Prometheus, was here explained 
as the theft of the wisdom of art from the chamber 
where Athene and Hephaestus presided over it. The fact 
that he stole the fire as well and gave it to mankind was 
merely because the " wisdom of art " would have availed 
them very little without that aid. Further, when Zeus 
sent " Justice " and " Reverence " on earth, Hermes, who 


was charged to distribute the boon, asked if the precious 
gift should be distributed to all men equally, or should 
be given in the proportion of the arts, with many lay- 
men, that is to say, to one master or expert. By " art," 
too, men began to articulate their sounds and to invent 
language. By "art," "wisdom," or "virtue" the words 
are deliberately used as equivalents, and are frequently 
put one for the other they built houses, governed the 
State, and fulfilled the moral law. Art and its masters, 
in the sense that we should rather speak to-day of 
handicraft and artisans, formed a permanent contrast 
with nature and chance. Through all the Platonic 
caricature there shines that conception of life which our 
study of the conditions of this age has fully prepared us to 
encounter. We think we discern a pedantic note in these 
utterances, a hint of the schoolmaster's exaggerated rever- 
ence for what is founded on reflection, reduced to rule, 
and teachable by precept. Such a view of life was 
eminently suited to the childhood of the mental and moral 
sciences, and in no instance out of many, as we shall have 
occasion to remark, was it more strongly or more clearly 
developed than in the person of Socrates. 

4. We need hardly say that this projection into the 
misty past of the achievements of an age of ripe reason 
is an unhistorical method. The genius and inventiveness 
of individual minds were of course at all times indispens- 
able. Many of the greatest works of progress in which 
adult humanity acquiesces as self-evident were doubtless 
wrought by anonymous heroes of civilization, and we 
gladly join in the eulogistic paean which George Forstcr 
raises in honour of the great Unknown who first subdued 
the horse and pressed him into the service of mankind. 
But progress depends on something more than the work 
of individual great men. Account must also be taken of 
the slow and imperceptible achievements of the moderately 
gifted multitude, climbing, as it were, the rungs of a ladder 
provided by Nature herself. It would be wholly incorrect, 
and at variance with historical facts, if the first stage Instead 
of the last stage of evolution were taken as marking the 


possession of a system or network of rules, which is what we 
mean by a practical art, and it is precisely this mistake in 
historical perspective which commonly characterizes the 
great epochs of intellectual emancipation. Unwittingly 
they shape the past according to their own image, and 
they are fain to adorn the childhood of the race with the 
features of precocious wisdom. Thus in such epochs we 
frequently meet the doctrine of the Social Contract. Minds 
that have repudiated the yoke of tradition, that have 
virtually outgrown the discipline of supernatural authority, 
and that perceive in the institutions of State and society 
nothing but means to human ends, are far too prone to 
ignore the different ages of mankind, and to ascribe to 
their remotest ancestors modes of thought and action 
corresponding exactly to their own. The fact is that the 
individual as such was originally of no account whatever. 
He was merely a member of his family, his tribe, or his 
clan. His adherence to the group of which he formed a 
part was conditioned by his birth, or imposed on him by 
force ; his obedience was given blindly, and no play at all 
was permitted to his powers of free-will or self-determina- 
tion. These were the facts, which the apostles of enlighten- 
ment promptly proceeded to neglect, and to distort into an 
opposite significance. Moreover, that natural tendency was 
often considerably strengthened by the demands of practical 
politics. We begin to doubt the evidence of our own 
eyes when we see what views were expressed by John 
Locke * in his two treatises " On Civil Government." 
This acute and profound thinker maintained in all serious- 
ness that the political community rested in all instances 
on voluntary combination and on the free choice of the 
rulers and of the forms of government ; and we watch with 
astonishment his eager but idle efforts to press the facts 
of history and ethnology into the service of this fallacious 
theory. Our astonishment abates, however, on homoeo- 
pathic principles, when we glance at Locke's opponents, 
the theoretical defenders of absolutism. Those champions 
of the divine right of kings contended that the Creator 
* A. D. 1632-1704. 


had endowed Adam with the plenitude of governing powers, 
and that from Adam they had descended on all the 
monarchs of the earth. And the question was discussed 
throughout as if there were no alternative offered to con- 
temporary thought except between these two doctrines 
thus at variance with history and reason. It is true that 
gleams of correct judgment flashed across the mind of 
Locke. He was aware that "an argument from what 
has been to what should of right be, has no great force." 
But the light of this perception did not prevent him 
from considering the cause of political freedom through 
hundreds of pages, as if it were bound to stand or fall 
with the triumph or defeat of his pseudo-historical theory. 
Reverting from Locke to the dawn of modern philosophy 
at the opening of the fourteenth century, and passing 
over the many intermediate links in that great chain of 
development, we are met by similar tendencies of thought. 
Marsilius of Padua, for example, the older contempo- 
rary of Petrarch, and the friend of William of Occam, the 
bold Minorite friar, was the author of a treatise, "The 
Defender of Peace," inscribed to Lewis of Bavaria, in which 
he asserted the doctrine of the Social Contract. He too, 
as we find, was filled with the belief that the war against 
priestly pretensions could only hope to end in the com- 
plete triumph of monarchical rule limited only by semi-con- 
stitutional or democratic checks, if it were waged under the 
standard of the sovereignty of the people and of this pseudo- 
historical fact on which it rested. In the earlier Middle Ages 
similar effects had been produced by a precisely contrary 
tendency. The wish to exalt ecclesiastical authority at the 
expense of the secular power had fostered the spread of the 
opinion that the State had sprung from the anarchy which 
ensued on the fall of man ; that it was not created by divine 
dispensation, but owed its origin to the disasters of man- 
kind and to the Social Contract erected as a barrier against 

If some one were to forbid us to ,walk upright unless 
we could prove that we had never crawled on all-fours in 
infancy, we should be hardly less surprised than at the 


prohibition imposed on modern men to exercise a free choice 
in political affairs unless their ancestors had exercised it in 
remote antiquity. We have just now alluded to the manner 
in which this mode of thought, which rests on a great over- 
estimate rather than on any under-estimate of the value 
of positive law, has re-arisen in more recent times, and 
every one is acquainted with the manner in which it reached 
its summit in Rousseau, the precursor of the French Rev- 
volution. Though this argument in favour of the theory 
of the Social Contract was not known to the ancients, yet 
the theory itself was familiar to them. We have already 
struck its psychological root. Reduced to its elements, 
the theory can be expressed in the form of a question 
and an answer, in which the answer will appear as wholly 
unprejudiced and impartial, but imbued with an error 
derived from the total lack of historical understanding. 
The question was, " How did our ancestors happen to 
resign their apparent individual self-independence, and to 
consent to those limitations of it which the State laid on 
them ? " The answer was, " They accepted this disadvan- 
tage for the sake of a greater advantage. They resigned 
to a certain degree their own liberty in order to be 
protected from the abuse of liberty by other people 
in order to protect life and property, their own as 
well as that of their dependents, from outside violence." 
In the light of common sense, this will be seen to be 
nothing but a special instance of a far-reaching tendency 
to error. Anything that fulfils a purpose may readily be 
regarded, by virtue of a false generalization, as necessarily 
owing its existence to a deliberate dispensation expressly 
directed to that end. Plato was acquainted with that 
doctrine, and at the beginning of the second book of the 
" Republic " he put it in the mouth of Glaucon, in the words : 

" And when men have done and suffered [injustice] and had 
experience of both, not being able to avoid the one and obtain 
the other, they think that they had better agree with one another 
to have neither." 

Here, then, was the beginning of laws and covenants ; 


hence the ordinances of the law were entitled right and 
just, and this was the nature and the origin of justice. 
Epicurus adopted that theory ; and his heavy debt to 
Democritus suggests that in this instance too he was 
following in the steps of his great predecessor a con- 
jecture, however, which cannot yet be asserted with more 
than a moderate degree of probability. 

5. The probability is supported by the fact that in an 
allied sphere of learning the mind of Democritus took a 
similar bent. In the question of the origin of language, 
antiquity was divided into two hostile camps. Their 
conflict of opinions was a striking illustration of what John 
Stuart Mill has somewhere called the bandying of half- 
truths. One party asserted that language had a natural 
origin, the other party that it was based on convention. 
In the theory of the natural origin of language, two 
different contentions were involved. First, that the 
formation of language does not arise from deliberate 
design, but from a spontaneous impulse of instinct ; and, 
secondly, that the primordial natural connection between 
sound and meaning may still be recognized and proved in 
existing forms of language that is to say, in the words 
of the Greek tongue. Now, contemporary philologers are 
convinced that the first of these contentions is true, but 
the second totally false. We know how ill we succeed in 
obtaining absolute certainty as to genuine original types of 
speech. Comparative analysis has disclosed many roots of 
the aboriginal Indo-Germanic language, but even there we 
are scarcely ever certain of standing in the presence of 
words without a past, of true examples of the primordial 
impulse to language, free from all previous history. And 
yet we are far better equipped for that purpose than were 
the ancient Greek grammarians who hardly ever knew any 
other language than their own, and who lacked the means 
for all deeper analysis equally with the means for com- 
parison. Philosophers approached the problem of the origin 
of language, which has never yet been completely solved, 
with the same helplessness and the same confidence with 
which they attacked the problem of the origin of organic 


life. In both instances alike they succumbed to the 
temptation of mistaking the highly complicated as simple, 
and the last link in a long chain of development as ab- 
original. Th result was obviously an etymological 
scrimmage. An overwhelming subjective factor of error 
in the habitual mental association between the word and 
its meaning contributed to the breakdown in consequence 
of the difficulties of the facts. We are reminded of the 
Frenchman who maintained that his mother-tongue was 
constructed more naturally than English, because in Eng- 
lish pain is called " bread," whereas in French it is called 
fain and it is pain. And even when attempts were made to 
treat the subject more rationally, to analyze the words and 
compare them with the impressions they produced, fresh 
delusions defeated the experiment, which failed to attain a 
single tenable result Even in cases where the endeavours 
of the etymologists possessed a certain plausibility, their 
speculations, which Plato ridiculed in his dialogue " Craty- 
lus," suffered the same fate as the lay philologers of our day 
who affect to perceive in the verb " to roll " a consonance 
with the sound of rolling thunder or of rolling wheels. They 
do not know that the word is derived from the Low Latin 
rotula, a diminutive of rota (" a wheel "), and that rota, like 
the German Rad, springs from the same root as rasA* so 
that the consonance is completely accidental. Heraclitus 
was the first to maintain this doctrine with its curious 
mixture of falsehood and truth. Or, rather, it is probably 
more correct to say that he tacitly assumed the theory 
than that he expressly promulgated and supported it. 
Undoubtedly he discerned in the consonance of words a 
reference to the affinities of the ideas to which they corre- 
sponded, as indeed may be gathered from some of his un- 
translatable sentences.t Similarly, he was evidently pleased 
at finding his doctrine of the coexistence of contraries 
foreshadowed in the Greek language, in the sense that one 
and the same word (/3/oe and ]3ioc) meant at one time 
" life " and at another time an instrument of death, namely, 
* N.B. The German rasch = " swift." 
t Bk. I. Ch I, 5. 


" the bow." It is at least questionable, however, if Hcra- 
clitus discussed the origin of linguistic formations and 
expressed his views on that subject. But, considering 
that he regarded all human activity as the image and 
emanation of the divine, he must have been very far from 
believing that the vocal incorporation of the processes of 
the mind was something merely artificial, and he would 
probably have rejected the assumption, even if, as is 
hardly credible, it had found a champion among his own 

The name of Democritus is mentioned as the author, 
or at least as the earliest champion, of this counter-theory. 
At the same time we are made acquainted with the out- 
line of the arguments which he marshalled against the 
doctrine of the natural origin of language. The sage of 
Abdera referred to the plurality of meanings borne by 
certain words (homonymy), and to the plurality of words 
used to designate certain objects (polyonymy). Further, he 
was struck by the occasional phenomenon of a change of 
appellations, and lastly by the "anonymity" of certain objects 
or ideas. The point of the first two of these arguments is 
quite clear. If, as had been assumed, it were true that an 
inner and necessary relation exists between an object and 
its name, cases could not arise as in the instances of "bill," 
or " gin," or " seal," in which the same complex of sounds 
denotes objects of different kinds* Similarly, the assump- 
tion was incompatible with the fact that one object could 
be called by more than one name. Thus the same locality 
is now a "room," now a "chamber ;" the same piece of fur- 
niture is now a " chair," and now a " seat ; " the same animal 
now a "dog," now a "hound." The third argument is 
little more than a variant of the first. For it makes but 
little difference whether an object is called by several 
names simultaneously, or whether these appellations are 
given to it in temporal succession. Thus " placket " was 
the seventeenth-centuiy word for the petticoat of to-day, 
and we speak of " sherry " to-day in the place of Fal- 
stafFs "sack." The fourth and last argument, however, 
seems to transgress these bounds of reasoning, for it is 


hardly a proof against the existence of an Inner connection 
between the names of things and the things named that 
certain objects or ideas are without appellations. Here, 
we fancy, Democritus must have been trying to express 
something of a different and more comprehensive kind. He 
would appear to have argued to this effect : If language 
were a divine gift or a product of nature, we should recog- 
nize in its manifestations a higher degree of adaptation 
than is actually apparent. But the alternating picture of 
excess and defect, of change and inconstancy, and finally 
of a total lack of the requisite means to an end, though 
familiar enough in the imperfect types of human inven- 
tion, should not appertain to creations which we ascribe 
to the government of nature or to the control of divine 
agencies. And, rendering this reflection of Democritus 
into the language of modern thought, we may interpret 
him as follows : Language is not an organism, for ex- 
perience teaches us that organisms contain a far higher 
degree of perfection than is contained in language a con- 
cession to experience with which Democritus may fairly be 
credited despite his strong anti-teleological bias. 

The incisive criticism thus directed at the theory of a 
natural origin of language affected it merely in its rudest 
and most incomplete form. Democritus succeeded in 
proving that men have not been constrained as if by an 
invincible necessity to describe objects by the names apper- 
taining to them and by no other names. But this result 
might have been reached by a mere reference to the fact 
that there exist more languages than one. Democritus, it 
must be added, was as guilty as any of his opponents of 
the fundamental crime of that theory. He too confused 
what is original with what is the result of development, and 
he too neglected all the facts pointing to what we call the 
growth and evolution of language. In order to evade the 
difficulties which threatened the theory of his adversaries, 
he was compelled to adopt an hypothesis which brought 
no less serious difficulties in its train. Language, according 
to this hypothesis, was to be entirely conventional in origin ; 
primeval men were to have agreed together to call the 


objects by such-and-such names in order that they might 
keep as a permanent possession this important aid to 
instruction and communication. The objections to that 
view are obvious. The critics of antiquity, led by Epicurus, 
were quick to ask the awkward question, How could such 
agreement have been reached in an age when language 
itself, the most important means of communication, did not 
yet exist ? Thus the Epicurean author of a book written on 
stone which has only lately been discovered, asked if the 
"name-giver" was to be represented as a kind of school- 
master, who showed his pupils at one time a stone and at 
another time a flower, and insisted on their learning the 
proper names. If so, he wondered, what would bind them 
to use those names and no others when the schoolmaster's 
eye was removed ; and what would preserve those names 
for the information of posterity, or even for the use of remote 
quarters of the country ? or were we to suppose that this 
remarkable lesson was imparted at one time to great masses 
of men, and if so, did it take place by written communica- 
tions, which could certainly not precede the invention of 
language, or by the concourse in one spot of scattered multi- 
tudes of men in an age which was deficient in all perfected 
means of locomotion ? This was the kind of ridicule which 
was poured on the exposition of Democritus, and we are 
unable to say at this date how far he really deserved it. 
It is quite possible that he refrained from elaborating his 
central thought in detail, and that he was content to set up 
the theory of convention as the sole solution of the problem 
adequate to replace the old theory of nature which, as a 
whole, he could not but condemn. Be that as it may, it 
was left to Epicurus to dispel a portion of the darkness 
which surrounded this theme, and by the assumption of a 
natural as well as of a conventional element in language to 
untie the knot as efficiently as his inadequate resources 
permitted. At that point, if not earlier, in the present 
history, we shall have to come to closer contact with the 
problem, and to examine Epicurus's attempt at a solution, 
correct in principle as it was, in relation to the subsequent 
teachings of comparative philology. 


A single example will suffice to help us to realize the 
conceptions of the natural and the conventional element 
in speech. The original Indo-European language possessed 
a root pu, which carried with it the meaning of " to cleanse." 
Presuming, as is extremely probable, that this is a genuine 
original root and not derivative, we may be permitted to 
speculate on the manner in which this little syllable reached 
its fundamental significance. If we employ the mouth 
itself, the organ of speech, to perform an act of cleansing, 
this is done by blowing away the particles of dust, straw, 
etc,, which cover and pollute any superficial plane. If we do 
this energetically by a determined narrowing of our pro- 
truded lips, we produce sounds like f y pf y or /#, In this 
way the last-named sound might at least have obtained 
its primitive significance. Presuming our conjecture to be 
correct, a definite position and movement of the organs 
of speech formed in this instance, as doubtless in count- 
less others, the bond between sound and meaning. In 
our opinion, too, this imitation of movements was by far 
the most fertile source in the formation of language far 
more fertile, indeed, than the imitation of sounds merely 
at second hand and not self-produced, such as the name 
" cuckoo " or the verb " to mew." Opinions of course may 
differ on this point, but both instances may fairly be 
claimed as cases of what, without any taint of mysticism, 
we may call the natural element in language. When we 
come to look at the various offshoots of that root, how- 
ever, in the separate Indo-European languages, we are con- 
fronted at once with the arbitrary forces of selection and 
preference in other words, with the element of convention. 
For side by side with this one appellation of the cleansing 
process, numerous others are found to describe precisely the 
same operation, though with different shades of meaning. 
There was nothing to compel the Roman to use the adjec- 
tive purus ("clean"), which sprang from that root, nor to 
compel the Roman and Greek to employ the substantives 
pana and point (" punishment "), springing from the same 
root. We can only say that several uses of those words, 
especially their combination with expressions signifying 


soul, disposition or sentiment, such as "mens pura," "purcte 
d'ame," "purity of mind," and so forth, corresponded fairly 
exactly to the fundamental meaning of the root, and formed 
a kind of reflection of its primitive significance. Further, 
the conception of punishment as a religious atonement or 
purification would be more appropriately expressed by the 
derivatives of/# than by descendants of other roots, such as 
sweeping, scouring, washing, etc., which import an additional 
conception of coarse material violence into their expression 
of the same operation. There was, of course, no compulsion 
to use this or that word in any given context. We can 
only speak of tendencies which were as liable to be defeated 
by the accidents of use and wont as they were likely to 
profit by favourable circumstances. As we descend more 
deeply into the history of a language, to reach at last the 
new formations of later epochs or of the present, we per- 
ceive more and more the importance of the alternating 
fortunes of the long historical process, and we watch the 
gradual disappearance of the tendency originally apper- 
taining to the natural element as it yields to the caprice 
of the speaker or the writer. For a word which popular 
parlance or authors of decisive authority have used for a 
definite conception becomes dedicated, as it were, to that 
purpose. Thus words become more and more mere signs 
of conventional agreement, mere coins that have passed 
from hand to hand till their original impress can only be 
read or renewed by the inventive genius of the artist of 
speech, and, above all,, of the poet. In other instances a 
breath of their vanished perfume still haunts these withered 
flowers of thought, and teaches even the coarser senses of the 
multitude how to use them aright. And now to revert to 
pu and its offspring. If one of the new forms of dentifrice 
was advertised as " Puritas," this was solely due to the prefer- 
ence of one man, its inventor ; but even in the French word 
feine, and transcend ently in &peine, meaning "scarcely," in 
the -German Pein, or the English pain, there is no trace what- 
soever of their original meaning. The Puritans received 
their party-name on account of their endeavour to restore 
the ecclesiastical institutions in their original shape, free (or 


pure) from later accretions. But the shade of meaning in 
the root of the word had hardly any marked effect on the 
choice of the name, though it may indeed have operated 
tacitly and unconsciously in the fact that the appellation 
was presently transferred to the ethical sphere, in which the 
term " moral Puritanism " became a familiar phrase. 

The same example will serve to show that the argument 
derived by Democritus from homonymy admits of refuta- 
tion even in such cases as exhibit the vocal identity of 
original, not of derivative forms of speech. If we blow 
something away, we are not always moved by the inten- 
tion of cleansing the object ; we may also do it from a 
desire, or, if instinctively, with the effect, of removing from 
ourselves something ugly or repugnant. In this way, 
as Darwin tells us, numerous nations of the earth use this 
gesture to express repugnance and contempt, and the 
spoken equivalent of the gesture, such as the German 
pfui, or the English pooh, which is likewise used by the 
Australian aborigines, serves to express those emotions. 
Similarly, Greek and Latin words denoting foul smells and 
the like, were derived from the same root, as we may 
still see in suppuration, putrescence, pyemy. The course of 
language-formation flows nowadays with but a sluggish 
stream, but it never entirely runs dry, and English in recent 
times has come to employ the exclamation we are speaking 
of as a verb, so that an Englishman, wishing to cast doubts 
on the honesty of another man's purpose in an emphatic 
form, may combine both fundamental meanings of that 
phonetic gesture in the sentence, " I pooh-pooh the purity 
of your intentions." 

6. The fascination of this great controversy over the 
origin of language is second in importance, however, to the 
contrast it involves between nature on the one part and 
convention on the other. We are already familiar with 
the distinction. We met it in the theory of sense-percep- 
tion formulated by Leucippus and Democritus, in which 
we learned to recognize convention as the tj'pe of change, 
subjectiveness, and relativity, in opposition to the change- 
less constancy of the objective world. But the true home 

VOL. I. 2 D 


of this contrast was not the sphere of sense-perception, nor 
was it the domain of language ; it was rather to be found 
in political and social phenomena. Archelaus, the pupil of 
Anaxagoras, is mentioned as the first representative in 
literature of this fundamental antithesis, but little more 
than this fact is known to us. His works have been lost, 
and we can only say with certainty that he discussed 
"Beauty, Justice, and the Laws" in the sense of that 
distinction, that he considered in this connection the 
" severance " of mankind from the rest of animal life, and 
that he treated of the rudiments of the social state. The 
antithesis between law and nature was foreign to all epochs 
in which the spirit of criticism was still in a rudimentary 
stage. Wherever authority and tradition reigned in undis- 
puted supremacy, the extant rules of life were accepted as 
the only natural laws, or, more exactly stated, their relation 
to nature was outside the region of doubt or even of dis- 
cussion. This is the attitude of the Mohammedan of 
to-day, who walks among us like a living fossil, clothed in 
the impassivity of that early era of thought, and invoking 
the revelation of Allah, as manifested in the Koran, as the 
supreme authority beyond the reach of appeal in all ques- 
tions of religion, law, ethics, and politics. To revert to 
the distinction, however, between nature and convention, 
we see that its recognition entails two great series of con- 
sequences. On the one part, it supplies the weapons for 
the incisive and destructive criticism of all extant and valid 
laws ; on the other part, it provides a new and paramount 
standard for the reform which is presently inaugurated in 
the most diverse fields. But the ambiguity in the word 
"nature," which was clearly recognized in later antiquity, 
rendered that standard extremely vacillating and uncertain 
a fact that seems to have increased the readiness of 
mankind to use it, inasmuch as the vagueness of the 
formula made it easier for them to include the most 
various aims and desires. Thus the poet Euripides, when 
he exclaimed, "This Nature does, who no convention 
knows/' was thinking of the power of natural impulse which 
laughs at law and locksmiths ; but when he said of a 


bastard, " His name's his fault, no difference Nature knows/' 
the dramatist was thinking of the actual individual nature 
of men and of its independence of the artificial distinctions 
of society. In a similar, though not in completely the 
same sense, Alcidamas the rhetorician* exclaimed in his 
" Messenian Speech," " the Deity made all men free : Nature 
has enslaved no man/' The speaker was here dominated 
by the conception of an imaginary primeval state in which 
universal equality was the rule ; or else he was thinking 
'of a natural law, founded on this or on some other basis, 
which took precedence of all human institutions. 

A distinction of this kind was bound to serve as a means 
of criticism and negative attack. History and ethnology had 
widened the study of the moral and political conditions of 
various tribes, nations, and epochs, and hence was derived 
a keener perception of the Protean multiformity of human 
customs and laws. People began to busy themselves with 
applying the comparative method to the most glaring con- 
trasts. A new literature sprang up about this subject, 
which reached its summit in antiquity in the treatise " On 
Fate," by Bardesanes, the Syrian Gnostic, f and which reaped 
a rich harvest in the age of the Encyclopaedists. Herodotus 
himself took pride in parading antitheses of this kind. A 
notable instance occurs in one of his stories about Darius. 
He relates that the monarch sent for the Greeks at his court 
to ask them their price for devouring the corpses of their 
ancestors. They replied that no price would be high 
enough. Thereupon the Persian king summoned the 
representatives of an Indian tribe which habitually prac- 
tised the custom from which the Greeks shrank, and asked 
them through the interpreter, in the presence of the 
Greeks, at what price they would burn the corpses of their 
ancestors. The Indians cried aloud and besought the king 
not even to mention such a horror. From these circum- 
stances the historian drew the following notable moral for 
human guidance : If all existing custom-? could somewhere 
be set before all men in order that they might select the 
most beautiful for themselves, every nation would choose 
* Fourth century B.C. ; cp. Ch. VII. 4, inf/a. t Born circ. 200 A.D. 


out, after the most searching scrutiny, the customs they 
had already practised. And he ends his tale by giving 
Pindar right in his remark, " Convention is the king of all 
men." The same thought is developed at greater length 
and with even more point in a treatise which may probably 
also be referred to this age. There we find the opinion 
expressed that " if all men were to gather in a heap the 
customs which they hold to be good and noble, and if they 
were next to select from it the customs which they hold to 
be base and vile, nothing would be left over, but all would 
be distributed among all.'* We can hardly conceive a more 
direct and definite expression of the belief that no act or 
institution is so bad or ugly as not to be held in high 
honour by some portion of humanity. This relativist point 
of view has an enlightening and emancipating effect on 
which we may pause for a moment. We see it most clearly 
in the dramas of Euripides, the great poet and prophet of 
free thought. We marked just now his indifference to the 
stain of illegitimacy, and we would add here that he made 
no more account of the brand on the forehead of the slave. 
In his opinion it was the convention and the name, not 
nature, that imposed slavery : 

u The name alone is shameful to the slave ; 
In all things else an honest man enslaved 
Falls not below the nature of the free." 

He was equally explicit, too, on the question of the differ- 
ence between noble and humble birth : 

** The honest man is Nature's nobleman. 
Who keeps not justice, though the son of Zeus, 
Or sprung more highly, count I but as mean." 

We see that little was wanting to break down the barriers 
of nationality and to make room for the cosmopolitan ideal 
which we shall meet in full splendour in the Cynics. That 
ideal was anticipated by Hippias of Elis, in whose mouth 
Plato put the words 

" All of you who are here present I reckon to be kinsmen and 
and fellow-citizens, by nature and not by law; for by 


nature like is akin to like, whereas law is the tyrant of mankind, 
and often compels us to do many things which are against nature." 

7. While Nature meant here the social instinct, the real 
or probable original equality of mankind, it is obvious that 
the opposite opinion would not go begging for champions. 
The victory of the stronger over the weaker and the 
superiority of talent to mediocrity were bound to attract 
attention and to be regarded as an emanation of Nature, 
especially in a society founded on conquest and slavery. We 
may recall the glorification of war by Heraclitus as " the 
father and king " * of all things, which had differentiated 
free and slaves as well as gods and men. The sage of Ephe- 
sus was the first to recognize and exalt the significance of 
war or the application of force in the foundation of State 
and society. When we come to Aristotle we shall meet a 
kindred point of view, though somewhat less comprehensive 
and marred by a national prejudice. Aristotle undertook to 
discover a natural basis for slavery. He justified it in the 
interests of the barbaric slaves themselves, who were unfit 
for self-government, and he combated the view that slavery 
was merely the work of arbitrary convention. Whether 
or not the literature of the age of enlightenment contributed 
to this tendency is uncertain, but the probability is on the 
negative side. Plato at least, who rejected it, selected as 
its champion among the contemporaries of Socrates, not 
an author or a teacher of youth, but one of their bitterest 
foes, a practical politician, who plumed himself on his 
extreme practicality, and who is otherwise unknown to us. 
It is in the dialogue called " Gorgias " that this Callicles 
made a passionate plea for the right of might He there 
refers to the dominion which the strong exercises over the 
weak as a fact founded in nature, and to be characterized 
accordingly as a "natural law." The natural law changed 
forthwith on his lips to a "natural right" or to a dis- 
pensation of "natural justice." The bridge between the 
recognition of a natural fact and the approval of the con- 
duct corresponding to it was built with considerable ease, 

* Bk. I. Ch. I. 5 (p, 73). 


and the operation was assisted by the fact that there was 
one domain at least in which antiquity could perceive hardly 
any difference between the two. In international relations 
it was deemed at once natural and right that the strong states 
should overthrow and absorb the weak. This explanation, 
however, is not exhaustive in the present instance. For, 
though Callicles appeals to the right of conquest as well 
as to the example of the whole animal creation, yet he 
differs in two essential points both from Heraclitus and 
from Aristotle. He aims at the subjection, not of a 
portion, but of the whole of mankind, and his sympathies, 
if not exclusively, are yet mainly on the side of the strong 
and the clever rather than of the weak and dull. He 
takes the part of the man of genius, the " hero " as we 
should say to-day, against the multitude which tried at 
once to enslave his soul and to reduce him to the level 
of their own mediocrity. Callicles rejoiced to think that 
the man of genius, like a young half-tamed lion, would rise 
in the fulness of his strength 

t will shake off and break through and escape from all this ; he 
will trample under foot all our formulas and spells and charms, 
and all our laws sinning against nature : the slave will rise in 
rebellion and be lord over us, and the light of natural justice 
will shine forth." 

Such remarks as these express the aesthetic delight in 
the untamed force of a strong human nature. They 
represent, moreover, the feeling expressed by a modern 
champion of absolutism in the words, "the rule of the 
mightier is the eternal ordinance of God." A little later 
on, Callicles in Plato is made to defend a tenet which 
was less bitterly at variance with the spirit of popular 
institutions. The better and more intelligent man in 
his view was to exercise supremacy, and, as we do 
not live in an ideal world, he was not to be robbed of 
the right of personal profit. In other words, the fittest 
and most competent men were to exert the strongest 
influence and to draw the richest rewards in political 
Hfe. But the character of Callicles underwent a strange 


transformation In the further course of the dialogue. The 
champion of a Carlylean hero-worship, of Mailer's political 
theories, and of the principle of uncorrupted aristocra- 
cies, was suddenly turned to the evangelist of the gospel 
of an unbridled lust for pleasure. It is clear that this 
view had not found a spokesman in that age, from the 
ingenuous remark of Plato himself, " For what you say 
is what the rest of the world think, but are unwilling to 
say." We may confidently assert that the philosopher- 
poet combined this theory with the others so alien to 
it, in order to increase the odium which he desired to 
attach to them. But what was undoubtedly genuine and 
heartfelt was Plato's indignation at the yoke of average 
mediocrity and the frequent blunders of democratic in- 
stitutions. It formed an intelligible protest against 
the existing order of the State with its shifting lights 
and shades. The ideal Athens varied according to the 
critic's mood. Some were disposed to hero-worship, with 
Alcibiades at that moment as their idol. Others were 
inclined to revive the institutions of aristocracy either 
in whole or in part. Finally, Plato himself, who was a 
thorough hater of democracy, preached the Utopian 
doctrine of the philosophic kings. Thus " nature " and 
"natural law" were on one side the chosen shibboleth of 
the growing love of equality with its steady advance to 
cosmopolitanism, and on the other side they served the 
aristocrats and the worshippers of a strong personality. 
One ambition was common to both tendencies. They 
were moved alike by the desire to break loose from the 
bonds in which tradition and authority had fettered the 
mind of mankind. 

8. We are met here by a double question. How far 
did the diminishment of authority extend, and what were 
the effects that accompanied it ? We are not in a position 
to give even an approximately exact answer to either of 
these questions. But one thing at least is quite clear 
that no domain of life or faith was exempt from the 
attacks of criticism. The inquisitorial scepticism of the 
age did not pause even at the gates of heaven. Diagoras 


of Melos, a dithyrambic versifier, whose sparse poetical 
remains are steeped in awe of the gods, fell a victim to 
some unavenged injury, and became in consequence a 
sceptic as to the divine justice. He gave expression to 
this change of view in a volume of " Crushing Speeches," 
a title which affords a glimpse into the blasphemous 
disposition of the orthodox poet now turned revolutionary. 
In a later chapter we shall have to deal with the religious 
doubts' of Protagoras, clothed in far more moderate garb, 
as well as with the theory of Prodicus on the origin of 
religion. The abandoned throne of authority was usurped 
on all sides by reason and reflection. Every question 
of human conduct was treated by way of ratiocination, 
and one and all were submitted to the verdict of Reason. 
Nor was this innovation confined to philosophy and 
rhetoric. The poets and the historians, too, surprise us 
by the subtlety of their arguments. The dialogue of the 
dramatists, which even as early as Sophocles showed 
traces of the influence of the new tendency, became in 
the pliant hands of Euripides the playground of intellectual 
tournaments. Not old Herodotus himself, with his patri- 
archal modes of thought, escaped the spirit of his age 
and the temptation to discuss the great problems of 
human existence from a philosophizing moralist's point 
of view. Both he and Euripides started a discussion on 
human happiness and brought similar methods to bear 
on it. Herodotus, in his conversation between Solon and 
Croesus, set up two abstract types, the first of the man 
who had lost every claim to happiness except his bare 
title to wealth, and the second of the poor man. favoured 
in all other respects by good fortune. In the same way, in 
a fragment of the " Bellerophon " of Euripides, we find three 
rivals competing for the palm of happiness. Unlike the 
artificial creations of Herodotus, these types are taken from 
real life. They are (i) the low-born but rich man, (2) the 
high-born but poor man, and (3) the man without great 
riches or good birth, to whom by a paradoxical argument 
the meed of victory was awarded. In the passage where 
Herodotus introduced three Persian nobles disputing about 


the best form of government, he equipped the champion 
of his own favourite, democracy, with the strongest show 
of reason, but at the same time he displayed considerable 
dialectic skill by providing the defenders of monarchy 
and oligarchy with no mean arguments for their cases. 
In the times of which we are speaking, the problem of 
education occupied the foreground of interest. Questions 
were constantly asked, and the most diverse answers were 
returned, whether instruction or natural disposition was 
the more important factor, and whether theoretical teach- 
ing or practical habituation was to be preferred. Euripides, 
with his usual adaptability, laid equal emphasis on the 
teachable quality of " manly virtue," and on the necessity 
of familiarizing youth at a tender age with good examples. 
In this connection we may quote the following exclamation 
ef one of his tragic characters : 

" Nature is all in all ; in vain men try 
To teach the evil to be changed to good." 

The parallel between the cultivation of the intellect and 
the sowing of a field with fruits became a commonplace 
of the age. Talent was compared with the constitution of 
the soil ; instruction with the planting of the seed ; the 
industry of the learner with the labour of the husbandman, 
and so on throughout the resources of the metaphor. In 
this simile, to the features of which we shall probably 
have occasion to return, we see that the doctrines of 
education, which were originally kept rigidly apart, have 
already been merged in one thesis. 

The same epoch was remarkable for its fertility in 
schemes of reform. Thus Fhaleas of Chalcedon, in the 
second half of the fifth century, expressed himself in 
favour of the equalization of wealth, and formulated 
proposals to that end, which, so far as we are aware, 
however, would have affected real property alone. Another 
item in his programme was the state control of all 
industrial labour, its organization, that is to say, by a 
system of state slaves. Hippodamus of Miletus, again, 
whose acquaintance our readers have already made, and 


who was slightly senior to Phaleas, recommended a 
complete transformation of the internal constitution of 
states as well as of the external arrangement of cities. 
His ideal polity comprised three classes, in the respective 
spheres of industry, agriculture, and war. Of his three 
divisions of the land one-third only was to be private 
property ; another third was to be devoted to the purposes 
of divine worship, and the remainder to military supply. 
All the public officials were to be elected by the suffrages 
of the total community of 10,000 men. The magic 
number three was also efficacious in Hippodamus' division 
of the criminal code into three sections, applied respectively 
to offences against life, honour, and property. The adminis- 
trative work of government similarly fell in three categories, 
dealing respectively with the citizens, the orphans, and 
the foreigners. It is in this scheme that the thought was 
first expressed of the duty of the State to honour with 
special marks of distinction the authors of useful inven- 
tions. Moreover, the creation of a supreme court of 
appeal, and the acquittal of defendants ab instantia> were 
innovations first recommended by Hippodamus, and, 
except for the counter-testimony of Aristotle, we should 
add to the list of his original projects the principle of 
educating at the expense of the State the children of the 
victims of war. But it was the disciples of Socrates who 
first soared to the summits of boldness ; the doubts that 
still gnaw at the foundations of social order took their rise 
in that select band. 

But apart altogether from the extreme consequences 
first drawn by Plato and the Cynics from the sovereignty 
of reason, the spectacle is vivid enough to recall the 
radicalism of the French Revolution. The two epochs 
are divided, however, by one deep line of cleavage. The 
age of Greek emancipation was innocent of any serious 
attempt to transfer its theories into the practice of social 
and political life. A single parallel may be taken as 
typical in this connection. In Paris the " goddess Reason " 
enjoyed a real though ephemeral worship, and the Athens 
of the epoch we are discussing was also acquainted with 


that goddess. Her shrine, however, was on the stage of 
comedy, and her priests were the buffoons of Aristophanes, 
who put in the mouth of Euripides the prayer, " Hear me, 
O Reason, and ye olfactory organs ! " Nor did the other 
Radical doctrines of that age try to escape from the 
shadows of literature and the schools into the light of 
reality. At the same time it would be completely 
erroneous to conclude that ancient Radicalism was 
deficient on the side of intensity. The history of 
Cynicism will show us that there was no lack of persons 
ready to push their break with tradition to the extreme 
length of their serious convictions. Moreover, the indirect 
influence of philosophic radicalism on the culture of the 
succeeding centuries will loom before us in huge proportions. 
Still, generally speaking, philosophy may be said to have 
been a powerful intellectual fermentation without directly 
becoming a factor in practical life. And the cause of this 
suspense in its development is probably to be sought in the 
following circumstances. The economic condition of those 
times, which afforded a pointed contrast with that obtaining 
in Sparta in the third century B.C., was at least not intoler- 
able to the masses. Violent collisions were indeed not 
unfrequent, but they did not differ essentially from the 
conflicts of the classes in former generations. Their 
acuteness in the course of the Peloponnesian War was 
due to the influence of transient political constellations. 
The Greek religion was pliant enough to follow the 
immense changes in philosophic thought; and, finally, 
the national character of the Greeks, and pre-eminently 
of the Athenians, was instinctively averse from all sudden- 
ness and precipitancy, and was marked by a sense of 
measure and tact favourable to a gradual progress in all 
fields of development. So much, perhaps, by way of 
provisional reply to the questions asked at the beginning 
of this section. Before we go further we must pass in 
review some of the rhetoricians, teachers, poets, and 
historians, who formed the chief figures in this great 
intellectual movement. 




I. FERTILE though the fifth century had been in literary 
productions, it was far from earning the character of "an 
age of scribblers." The Greek still preferred to take 
his knowledge through the ear instead of the eye. The 
old-time rhapsodist was gradually vanishing 1 , but his place 
in the public life of Hellas was being filled by a new 
figiire. The " sophist " at Olympia and elsewhere wore the 
same purple raiment, attended the same great festivals, 
and delivered original harangues and panegyrics, instead 
of the old heroic poems, before the assembled holiday- 
makers. Moreover, elaborate lectures on the various 
questions of learning and life had become familiar in 
smaller social circles.* And thus we are able to 
measure the revolution which had taken place in the 
education of youth shortly before the last third of the 
century. The higher demands of political life, and 
the claims of an increased intellectual activity, were no 
longer satisfied with the old scanty instruction in the 
elements of reading, writing, and arithmetic, which, to- 
gether with music, gymnastics, and ultimately draw- 
ing, had formed the complete curriculum of instruction. 
There had been no provision, either from the public or 
from private sources, for the kind of education which is 
imparted in our public schools and in our non-professional 
universities, but the time came when men of original 
talents voluntarily undertook to fill up these gaps in 

. * Cp. Bk. II. Ch. II. i. 


education. Itinerant teachers began to wander from 
city to city, gathering young men round them and 
giving them lessons. Their instruction comprised the 
elements of the positive sciences, the doctrines of the 
nature-philosophers, the interpretation and criticism of 
poetry, the distinctions of the newly-founded rudiments of 
grammar, and the subtleties of metaphysics. But the 
central point of the education consisted, as was proper, of 
a preparation for practical, and especially for public, life. 
Thus Protagoras of Abdera, whom we hear of as the 
earliest and most renowned of these itinerant teachers, 
formulated his educational ideal, according to Plato, in the 
following words : 

" And this is prudence in affairs private as well as public ; he 
will learn to order his own house in the best manner, and he 
will be best able to speak and act in affairs of the state." 

The essence of the instruction, in a word, was contained 
in the moral and political sciences, or in such rudiments 
thereof as were constructed or in course of construction. 
The art of eloquence, however, the high significance and 
constant care of which we have already had occasion to 
discuss,* was the soul of practical politics. These self- 
styled sophists, these masters or teachers of wisdom, would 
obviously not confine their activity to the education of the 
young. They brought to the altars of rhetoric and literature 
the same gifts and resources which served them in their teach- 
ing capacity. In a certain sense, too, it was a necessity of 
their position that they should be restlessly engaged in 
these different pursuits, for they were entirely without subsidy 
from the State, they relied absolutely on ^their own efforts, 
they resided more frequently abroad than at home, and 
thus handicapped, they were compelled to enter on a 
keen competition among themselves. Modern life contains 
no exact parallel to the sophists. They were like the 
German professor of to-day, but were distinguished from 
him by the lack of all relationship to the State, whether 

* Bk. III. Ch. IV. i. 


useful or hurtful to their calling, as well as by the absence 
of all facultative narrowness and specialist limitations. 
Their standard of attainments for the most part was well- 
nigh encyclopaedic, and they resembled the journalists and 
men of letters of to-day in their constant readiness for the 
war of words. Half professor and half journalist this is 
the best formula that we can devise to characterize the 
sophist of the fifth century L.C. They earned a rich meed 
of applause no less than of material success, and the 
enthusiasm that their foremost representatives aroused in 
the youth of Greece, with its keen worship of beauty of 
form and intellectual culture, was almost immeasurable. 

The sophists, as Plato expresses it, were borne on 
the shoulders of their disciples, and the appearance of one 
of these heroes was the signal for an outburst of excite- 
ment in wide circles of the young men of Athens. We 
are told in a passage of Plato from which we borrow the 
following account how even before daybreak the house 
and bedchamber of Socrates were stormed by a high-born 
pupil, who woke the master with the cry, " Hast heard the 
great news ? " and how the sage answered in alarm, " For 
heaven's sake, what evil tidings dost thou bring ? " " God 
forbid," replied the pupil, " 'tis the best of all. He has 
come." " Who ? " The great sophist of Abdera." The 
youth then besought Socrates to put in a good word for 
him with the renowned Protagoras, that he might be 
admitted in the band of his disciples. In the morning, 
they went together to the house of the wealthy Callias, 
where the guest from Abdera was lodging. There they 
found the liveliest excitement. Protagoras was walking to 
and fro in the vestibule, with three distinguished friends 
on either side of him, including his host and the two sons of 
Pericles, and followed by a troop of secondary worshippers. 

" And nothing," adds the Platonic Socrates in his satiric vein 
" nothing amused me so much as to see how the young men took 
pains to give precedence to the master, and how, as soon as the 
van of the procession reached one end of the hall, the train parted 
itself asunder, in order to close tip again in due order behind the 
great man and his companions." 


In various apartments of the interior of the house other 
sophists were holding their court, each surrounded by a 
bevy of admirers like the belle of a ball. And now 
Socrates preferred his request in an ordinary conversational 
tone, and the rhetorician replied in measured language, with 
a long set speech delivered with impressive ceremony. A 
philosophic discussion sprang up between the two, and the 
rest of the company, hurriedly collecting all the benches 
and seats in the house, sat down to the feast of ear and 
mind. Protagoras left it to the audience to decide whether 
he should answer Socrates in a concise or discursive manner, 
whether by a speech or by the narration of a myth. The 
listeners, as soon as he began to speak, hung with eager 
expectation on his lips, and broke, when the discourse was 
ended, into storms of long-pent applause : the imperishable 
charm of Plato's style has made the whole story familiar, 
and though it contains a strong element of caricature, yet 
its realistic features are still clearly perceptible. 

2, We may be asked, What was the genuine common 
factor in the several sophists ? and to that question we can 
but reply that it consisted merely of their teaching pro- 
fession and the conditions of its practice imposed by the 
age in which they lived. For the rest, they were united, 
as other people were united too, by the part they took in 
the intellectual movements of their times. It is illegiti- 
mate, if not absurd, to speak of a sophistic mind, sophistic 
morality, sophistic scepticism, and so forth. It would have 
been miraculous if the sophists, the paid teachers of youth, 
whether they were found in the Thracian colony of Abdera, 
or in the Peloponnesian province of Elis, in Central Greece, 
or in Sicily, had stood nearer to one another in sentiment 
and thought than to the other representatives of con- 
temporary thought. The most that we can say is, that 
the majority of popular writers and teachers of every age 
have been on the side which made for victory, and have not 
backed the losing or retrograde cause. And this was true 
of the sophists as of the rest Dependent as they were 
on their public, they necessarily became the mouthpiece of 
ideas which, if not dominant, were at least rising into 


predominance, It is, therefore, not wholly inadmissible to 
regard the members of this profession in general as the 
vehicles of emancipation, though not all sophists were the 
leaders of emancipated thought, nor- far less all emanci- 
pators sophists. Furthermore, we shall see that the majority 
of them, possibly on account of that very dependence, main- 
tained in the main a moderate attitude, and that no one of 
them was so advanced a Radical in social or political 
thought as Plato and the Cynics. 

But before we go further, if our readers are not to be 
misled by false associations of ideas, we must acquaint 
them with the history of the words "sophist," "sophistical," 
"sophistry." The name (7o0m'/e, or "sophist," is derived 
from the adjective o-o^oc ("wise"), and directly from the verb 
(7otf> f^ojucu ("to think out," or "to devise'*). Thus it originally 
means more or less any man who has attained to eminent 
success in some faculty or other. The name was^applied to 
great poets, important philosophers, famous musicians, and 
to the seven wise men whose sententious maxims made them 
renowned in public and private life. At an early time the 
word seems to have acquired a tinge of disfavour, but at first 
at least the tinge must have been very slight, for otherwise 
Protagoras and his successors would never have selected the 
title for themselves. It was a disfavour which was destined 
to increase, however, and it flowed from various sources. In 
the first place, it is to be noted that any attempt to penetrate 
the secrets of nature aroused the mistrust of pious men. 
Theologians looked on the natural philosophers with sus- 
picion, and even other words, originally neutral in their signifi- 
cance, acquired an unfavourable bye-taste. Thus in the 
popular decree introduced by Diopeithes and directed at 
Anaxagoras the science of the heavens, or meteorology, was 
associated with a disbelief in the gods, and a flavour of 
suspicion attached to the word "meteorologist." It was 
hardly to be wondered that the new speculation about 
problems of knowledge, and questions of morality and right, 
should likewise have brought on their authors the charge of 
an indiscreet curiosity. And to this fear, whether genuine 
or pretended, of the pursuit of knowledge in geneial, there 


was added now a dislike from a fresh and fertile spring 
for the new professional class devoted to the practice 
and spread of science. The Greek view of life was at all 
times aristocratic. Their respect for wage-earning stood 
even lower than in other slave-owning communities, Hero- 
dotus, in asking if the Greeks had learnt their contempt of 
industry from the Egyptians, tells us that " the Corinthians 
despise manual labour least and the Lacedaemonians most.'' 
In Thebes there was a law that no one should be eligible to 
public office who had not absented himself from the markets 
for the space of ten years ; and even Plato and Aristotle 
were of opinion that artisans and traders should be excluded 
from full civic rights. Only a very few wage-earning pro- 
fessions, such as that of the physician, were not wholly 
incompatible with social respect. An especial reproach 
attached to the employment of intellectual labour for the 
benefit of some one else who paid for it ; this was regarded 
as a degradation, as a yoke of servitude that was volun- 
tarily assumed. When the development of the law courts 
engendered the calling of the orator or advocate, his pro- 
fession was ridiculed by the comic writers no less than that 
of the sophist. Past members of the profession did their 
best to wipe out the recollection, as may be seen in the 
instance of Isocrates ; and he, too, when reduced to founding 
a school of rhetoric, is said to have wept tears of shame 
on receiving his first fee. We are reminded of the embar- 
rassment felt by Lord Byron, as well as by the aristocratic 
founders of the Edinburgh Review, on accepting their 
earliest -honorarium as authors. A third cause for the dis- 
favour which attached to the calling of a sophist was 
discovered in the feeling of those persons who were unable 
to pay for such instruction, and who were accordingly placed 
at a disadvantage, in their own opinion at least, in public 
affairs no less than in private quarrels, in comparison with 
their opponents or rivals who had enjoyed a training of 
that kind. In this respect the position of the sophists has 
been aptly compared with that of professors of fencing 
in a community where the duel is an established institu- 
tion a parallel particularly applicable to the litigious 

VOL. L 2 E 


community of Athens, the city of law-suits. Lastly, these 
tacit and spontaneous factors which operated to discredit the 
sophist were reinforced by the deliberate purpose of a power- 
ful personality whose hand wielded the engine of a mag- 
nificent literary style. Plato contemned the whole existing 
order of society. Its greatest statesmen seemed to him 
as despicable as its poets and other intellectual leaders. 
He was anxious, above all, to separate by fosse and wall, 
so to speak, his own teaching and his own school, in which 
he saw the sole chance of salvation, from everything which 
could possibly be confused with them, or which might even 
distantly resemble them. As a man of brilliant parts and 
of noble birth, he might have contended for honour and 
glory in the open day of public life. Instead of so doing, 
he chose to live in the shadow of a school, where he 
wove his words and spun his ideas " conversing in low tones 
with two or three admiring youths." For this he was 
severely censured, and certainly by no one more severely 
than by his nearest friends. Accordingly, he was earnestly 
at pains to distinguish as sharply as possible his own methods, 
aimed, as he believed, at the regeneration of mankind, from 
those which seemed to be directed at less exalted goals. 
Socrates, his master, in contemporary opinion had been 
ranked more or less as a sophist, and had even served as 
the type of that order ; but in a later passage we shall see 
how thoroughly Plato succeeded, though not altogether 
without violence, in consecrating to the honour of his master 
a particular niche in the memory of posterity. 

No resources of satire were foreign to the art of Plato. 
He would as lief be coarse as delicate, and his attacks on 
the sophists were even more remarkable for their extent 
than for their intensity. Every member of that order, as 
he trod the boards of the Platonic dialogue, was received 
with terms of contempt or at the best with marks of ridi- 
cule. But no : this rule has one exception. In an unguarded 
moment, as we must suppose, Plato let slip an expression of 
unqualified appreciation in respect to one of the sophists. In 
the dialogue " Lysis" he spoke of Miccus in one breath as 
" a friend and eulogist of Socrates " and " a clever man and 


an excellent sophist." Miccus is otherwise completely un- 
known to us, and perhaps we may add that his insignificance 
saved him from attack. For otherwise Plato gave his malice 
full rein. Even in instances where the doctrines of the 
sophist revealed not the slightest blemish even to his jealous 
eye, still a comic effect would be produced by bringing him 
in at an awkward moment and in an obtrusive way. This 
was the fate of Prodicus and Hippias, who were further 
ridiculed respectively for their weak health and their fussy 
versatility. It is true that Protagoras was accorded the 
full tribute of respect due to his exalted personality and 
honour, but the old-fashioned and obsolete texture of his 
rhetoric was submitted with perfect mimicry to the ridicule 
of the reader, while every real or supposed error in his 
argument was remorselessly dragged into the light. But 
Plato's most emphatic language was reserved for the 
features at which the aristocratic sense of his countrymen, 
and especially of his peers, took particular umbrage. He 
delighted in jeering at the professional element in sophistry, 
which he considered vulgar and banal, with especial refer- 
ence to the system of fees. If the reward were small, 
he affected to regard it as a proof of the worthlessness of 
the service performed, and if it were large, he represented 
it as entirely disproportionate and undeserved. Modesty, 
as we know, was not a virtue of that age,* and Plato 
himself, by the way, was no exception. It is extremely 
probable, therefore, that the sophists, whose business it 
was to advertise themselves in difficult circumstances, dis- 
played a degree of over-confidence in the manner of their 
appearance. Nor would the members of that class fail to 
display the petty jealousies and rivalries which are inevitable 
to all competitive professions. But this should by no means 
be taken as implying that the picture of the profession 
was complete when its share in our common human weak- 
ness had been described. It would be as unfair to draw 
that conclusion as to apply the same method to the modern 
successors of the sophists teachers, and popular authors 
or to the members of any other class, such as barristers or 
* Cp. Bk. III. Ch. II. i. 


members of Parliament. Plato's contempt of the sophists 
stands on the same plane of thought as Schopenhauer's 
scoffs at the "philosophy professors" or Comte's assault 
on the "Academicians." 

In one instance, however, Plato's criticism hit the mark. 
We see his sophists measuring themselves with Socrates 
in dialectic bouts and suffering complete defeat. The 
dialogues as such were pure fiction, but this particular 
feature may be taken as an historical fact, for Socrates' 
championship in dialectic forms an undisputed title to fame 
and is one of the secrets of his influence on posterity. In 
this connection, however, a curious point is to be noted. 
When Plato abandons the rapier-thrusts of ridicule in order 
to attack the sophists with the heavy artillery of serious 
argument, the names of Protagoras, Hippias, and Prodicus 
disappear, and sophistry itself wears a different face. Those 
genuine old sophists had shown themselves incapable of 
adopting the Socratic method of cross-examination. They 
had no champion to enter for the contest of short questions 
and answers ; but when Plato became serious, the sophists 
whom he introduced were precisely the men for that work. 
The key to this riddle has long ago been found. It is to be 
discovered in the fact that Plato's literary activity embraced 
more than half a century. We are not, accordingly, 
surprised that between his youth and his old age a new 
race of sophists should have arisen. Indeed, at the time 
when Plato first took up the pen, the old generation was 
dying out. Thus the composition of three at least of the 
comedies which made a butt of the activity of the sophists 
and of their pedagogic innovations fell in the same decade 
in which Plato was born. The " Epulones " of Aristophanes 
was produced in the winter of 427 B.C., a few months 
before the birth of Plato, who was four years old when 
the " Clouds " was produced, and six at the time of the 
" Flatterers " of Eupolis. It is entirely natural, therefore, 
that the Athenian thinker in the evening of his long life 
should have thought much less of these sophists than 
of other philosophers whom he hated, and whom he 
delighted to call by ill names. In a word, the sophists 


who were assailed with such bitter mockery in the 
Platonic " Sophistes " itself, and in other similar dialogues 
composed at about the same date, were the disciples of 
Socrates and the disciples of his disciples, above all 
Antisthenes and his crew the deadliest enemy of Plato. 
It must be conceded that the art of Plato sought to 
weave threads of connection between these sophists and 
those others to whom the name properly belonged, but 
the artificiality of such attempts can escape no intelligent 
reader of the " Euthydemus " and " Sophistes." Aristotle, 
as may readily be conceived, inherited this convention of 
language. In not a single passage of his numerous writings 
was the expression " sophist " ever used to designate a 
member of that profession in the older generation, while 
once at least, in speaking of the system of fees, the name 
of Protagoras was honourably mentioned by him in sharp 
contrast with the sophists. Aristotle used the word in three 
senses: First, in the old simple, blameless significance, 
in which he too described the seven sages as sophists ; 
secondly, to describe a few philosophers personally in little 
sympathy with himself, such as Aristippus, a disciple of 
Socrates ; and, thirdly and chiefly, the term was employed 
as a title for the "Eristics/* for the dialecticians, that is to 
say, with whom Aristotle was engaged in a life-long feud, 
and who emerged, spoiling for a fight, from the schools of 
Antisthenes and Euclides, the Socratic resident in Megara. 
Now, as the wits of these philosophers were engaged in 
contriving puzzles and fallacies, the result was that the 
words " sophism " and " sophistical " were added to 
" sophist " and " sophistry " in the vocabulary of the polemic 
waged by Plato in his old age and by Aristotle against 
the Eristics, and the meaning which has since become 
dominant was won and established at that time. The use 
of the term "sophist/' as employed by Aristotle, was 
preserved till the end of antiquity. Even then it was 
still occasionally used in its originally neutral if not 
precisely honourable sense. At times, indeed, such as that 
of the later sophistry of the Roman Empire, this became 
once more the predominant usage, but it has been far 


more frequently employed as a more or less scornful term 
of reproach. Nor did Plato himself escape this con- 
temptuous appellation. He was rebuked as a sophist in 
that sense by his contemporary adversaries and rivals, the 
rhetoricians Lysias and Isocrates ; Aristotle incurred the 
same fate by the verdict of the historian Timseus ; his 
cousin Callisthenes by that of Alexander the Great ; 
Anaxarchus the Democritean by that of Hermippus the 
Aristotelian ; Eubulides the Socratic by that of Epicurus ; 
Carneades the Academician by that of Posidonius the 
Stoic, and so on with scarcely an exception through the 
whole catalogue of the philosophers and their opponents, 
till we reach the name of the Founder of Christianity, 
whom Lucian designated a sophist. I 

3. The history of this change of meaning is not related 
here for the first time. Still, it is well to pause on it, to 
dwell ever more fondly on its details, and to impress its 
significance on the reluctant senses even of the experts in 
this branch of learning. For many who cannot but admit 
the correctness of these statements are too apt to forget or 
to neglect them. They begin with a handsome acknowledg- 
ment of the ambiguity of the word " sophist," and of the 
injustice done to the bearers of that name in the fifth 
century B.C. by the ugly sense in which the term came to 
be used, and they admit that restitution is due. But the 
debt is forgotten before it is paid ; the debtor reverts to the 
old familiar usage, and speaks of the sophists once more as 
if they were really mere intellectual acrobats, unscrupulous 
tormentors of language, or the authors of pernicious teach- 
ings. The spirit may be willing, but the reason is helpless 
against the force of inveterate habits of thought. Verily 
the sophists were born under an evil star. Their one short 
hour of triumphant success was paid for by centuries of 
obloquy. Two invincible foes were banded together 
against them the caprice of language, and the genius of 
a great writer, if not the greatest writer of all times. Little 
indeed did he imagine, when he played upon them with 
the lightnings of his wit and irony, that the airy creations 
of his fertile invention and of his exuberant youthfulness 


would one day be called to the bar of serious historical 
investigation. He made game of the living, and not of the 
dead, and it was the third and most fatal calamity which 
befell the sophists that their vitality departed, and that they 
became a part of the dead past The restless itinerant 
teachers founded no schools. No faithful bands of disciples 
watched over their writings and kept their memory green. 
After the lapse of a few centuries, of all their literary pro- 
ductions but a few sorry fragments were preserved, and 
merely fragments of those fragments are at our disposal 
to-day. We are almost totally deprived of first-hand 
witnesses to their work. 

We shall presently turn to the individual sophists, and 
endeavour to gain acquaintance with their personality and 
their teachings. But first we are bound to mention a 
literary monument, which, though it does not bear the 
name of a sophist on its title-page, is yet admirably 
adapted to help us to realize the character of at least a 
portion of what is called sophistic literature. The Hippo- 
cratic collection comprises, our readers will remember, a 
great variety of contents. Among them is a treatise which 
may confidently be ascribed to the age and the circle that 
we are discussing, apart -altogether from any attempt to 
identify its author. It is entitled "On the Art," and, 
treating of the art of medicine, it undertakes to defend it 
against the attacks which it encountered from an early 
date. This " apology for medicine " displays all the features 
which we should expect to find in the intellectual work 
of a sophist of that age. It is not so much a set treatise as 
an address designed for oral delivery, carefully constructed 
for that purpose, and polished with consummate mastery. 
These facts alone would go far to exclude the theory of its 
authorship by a physician, even if other circumstances did 
not remove the last possibility of doubt. At the close of 
the work, for instance, the writer contrasted his own 
discourse with the "evidence of facts from professional 
medical men," thus, so to say, taking a courteous leave of 
the physicians and claiming the dues of mutual respect for 
himself and his brothers of the pen. Further, he referred 


to another speech which he hoped to compose in the future 
in respect to the remaining arts ; and a discussion of the 
theory of knowledge, in which, parenthetically remarked, 
he was clearly an opponent of Melissus, led him to mention 
a longer disquisition on the same theme which may 
almost certainly be ascribed to no other author but him- 
self. He was so habituated to polemics that it had 
become his second nature to rig up an adversary before 
his eyes and meet his arguments with counter-arguments. 
His learning was encyclopaedic. He jumped at every 
opportunity of trespassing the narrow limits of the matter 
before him, now for the sake of a brief allusion, and again 
for longer excursions in which to display his familiarity 
with ideas of the widest range. Thus in- the course of 
a very few pages he touched on the problems of causality 
and of the origin of language, on the element of chance in 
human action, on the relation of perception to objective 
reality, of natural disposition to the means of culture, of 
the industrial arts to the raw material, and so forth. He 
may fairly be entitled half rhetorician and half philosopher ; 
nor can we fail to mark the unmistakable trait of the 
schoolmaster. He betrayed his pedagogic habit by his 
dogmatic tone of complacent self-confidence as well as by 
his anxiety to subdivide and to define when new ideas 
were introduced. The deliberate though successful attempt 
to attain to a rhythmic euphony of style reminds us that 
the ornate diction had but lately been released from the 
fetters of verse. At the same time the scrupulously 
regular structure of the sentences, the timid separation of 
the whole into small sections, and the prominent relief 
given to emphatic words and thoughts likewise testify to 
the infancy of the art of prose. The treatise, with its 
wealth of ideas and its ambitious eloquence, serves us as 
a test by which to measure the enthusiasm which was 
aroused by the new kind of style, and we realize the 
powerful influence it exerted on contemporary minds. Nor 
can we fail to perceive the weaknesses and shadows it 
displayed, thus affording so many weapons to the enemy. 
No refined ear could endure the emphatic tone of the 


rhetorician, and the blatant self-consciousness with which 
he displayed his own wisdom and learning, just as 
Xenophanes the rhapsodist had plumed himself on his 
wisdom in his own day.* The unbridled sweep of language 
over the shallows of thought was little calculated to 
guarantee trustworthiness and consistency of argument. 
Nor would a taste for surprises and a preference for the 
terminology of polemics escape the suspicion of a striving 
after effect. In general it may be said that the rhetorical 
style, with its somewhat rigid forms, its stiff regularity, and 
its glaring colour-effects, was a reminiscence of archaic 
sculpture, and as such it was foredoomed to decay. It 
could not but create the impression of a coldness and 
pettiness, in comparison with the richer and more 
harmonious language, with the freer gait and more plastic 
power of the prose of Plato and, to some extent, of 

4. Here, however, a warning is required. Among the 
features referred to in the foregoing description there is 
certainly more than one which is purely individual, and 
we should fall into the error of undue generalization if we 
were to regard the treatise " On the Art " as throughout 
a type of its kind. The generalization would be yet 
more illicit if we were to extend it to the important 
thoughts, to which we shall have occasion to revert, which 
the treatise contains. For the sophists were so distinct in 
the details and in the spirit of their teaching that it is rather 
from habit than from conviction that we are induced to 
discuss them together. We would certainly guard against 
the false impression that they formed a separate class 
or school in the history of Greek philosophy. 

Prodicus of Ceos was sent as his countrymen's ambas- 
sador to Athens, where he obtained considerable influence. 
A distinct position is frequently created for him under the 
title of "the precursor of Socrates," with whom he was 
certainly bound in ties of personal friendship. Plato, 
however, tarred him with the same brush as the rest of 
his professional brethren. The "all-wise" Prodicus was 
* Cp. Bk. II. Ch. I. i. 


the constant butt of the searching and somewhat coarse 
satire in which the early Dialogues delighted, nor was he 
exempt from attack on the part of the comic writers. In 
the " Broilers " of Aristophanes, for example, the follow- 
ing distich occurred : 

" Though he escaped corruption by a book, 
'Twas done by Prodicus, the babbling brook. 1 * 

In the same way ./Eschines the Socratic, in his dialogue 
" Callias," joined the two " sophists Anaxagoras and 
Prodicus " a remarkable combination in a common in- 
dictment, and Prodicus was reproached with having edu- 
cated Theramenes the opportunist, who, though frequently 
charged with being unprincipled, was regarded by Aristotle, 
as we have lately learnt, as a highly reputable politician. 
We cannot help being startled at these remarks of ^Eschines, 
so striking is the parallel with the experience of Socrates. 
He too was charged with the corruption of youth, by the 
comic writers in the first instance, and he too was confronted 
with the living results of his education, Alcibiades and 
Critias. But neither the parallel with Socrates, nor the 
mention of the great name of Anaxagoras in the same 
breath, availed to save the memory of Prodicus. His 
salvation was rather due to the notable circumstance that 
other and impartial witnesses were ranged in his defence, 
and that their testimony conflicted with that of the phi- 
losopher and the playwright, who paid, by the way, in 
another passage a marked compliment to the wisdom of 
the sophist. 

Prodicus was a man of very earnest character, who 
has exercised a very considerable influence on posterity, 
mainly through the intervention of Cynics. We are no 
longer able to measure his achievements in nature-philo- 
sophy. The titles only of two books have come down 
to us on that side of his scientific labours " On Nature " 
and " On the Nature of Man " respectively. The little we 
know of another branch of learning to which his activities 
were directed is derived almost entirely from some satirical 
references in Plato. From these we learn that he attempted 


to deal with synonymy to collect and to compare, that is 
to say, words of kindred meaning and to distinguish their 
shades of signification. But when we ask what motive led 
him to that work or what degree of success he attained, 
no answer can be given. He may have wished to create 
an aid to the art of style, by which, as a matter of fact, 
Thucydides is said to have profited, or he may have desired 
to advance the cause of science by a sharper demarcation 
of the limits of ideas, or he may have aimed at both these 
ends at once. One fact only can be positively asserted 
that in undertaking this work he was supplying a real 
demand. The speculations on language had followed the 
cosmic theories to the tablelands of science, where they 
were confronted by problems which were practically 
insoluble, at least for the age we are dealing with. It 
was a wholly meritorious achievement to bring them down 
from the heights and to substitute an inquiry into the 
material and forms of contemporary speech for the investi- 
gation of the origin of language. We shall find that Prota- 
goras was busy with an analysis of the forms of speech, while 
Prodicus was the first to submit its material to the methods 
of scientific study. In this connection it is a matter of 
indifference whether or not his labours contributed to the 
artistic use of language : they must at least have helped 
to perfect it as an instrument of thought. We may even 
sincerely regret that his example was not more assiduously 
followed. Our consideration of the Eleatic doctrines has 
already served to show us how rich a source of error was 
contained in the ambiguity of words, and in the absence of 
clear definitions of the ideas expressed by them. If the road 
opened by Prodicus had been followed by more numerous 
successors, many of the mistakes from which the Platonic 
writings themselves are by no means wholly exempt might 
well have been avoided, and the harvest of d priori pseudo- 
demonstrations and of eristic fallacies would certainly have 
been far less abundant. 

We are much more accurately informed about the 
views of Prodicus on moral philosophy. His melancholy 
view of life may fairly entitle him to the description of 


the earliest of the pessimists. Euripides, speaking of the 
man who made the evils of life turn the scale of its 
blessings, had Prodicus in his mind. We cannot determine 
at this date how far his weakly constitution was answer- 
able for his gloom, nor how far it was due to the inherited 
character of his countrymen, the inhabitants of Ceos an 
island where suicide was of more frequent occurrence than 
in any other part of Greece. But whatever the cause 
may have been, the effect was always the same. A pro- 
found emotion shook the ranks of his audience when 
they heard his deep voice, that came with so strange 
a sound from the frail body that contained it. Now he 
would describe the hardships of human existence ; now he 
would recount all the ages of man, beginning with the 
new-born child, who greets his new home with wailing, 
and tracing his course to the second childhood and the 
grey hairs of old age. Again he would rail at death as 
a stony-hearted creditor, wringing his pledges one by one 
from his tardy debtor, first his hearing, then his 
sight, and next the free movement of his limbs. At 
another time, anticipating Epicurus, he sought to arm his 
disciples against the horrors of death by explaining that 
death concerned neither the living nor the dead. As 
long as we live, death does not exist ; as soon as we die, 
we ourselves exist no longer. Nor were occasions wanting 
for enheartening reminders of this kind. For the pessimistic 
wisdom of Prodicus did not find its goal in a mere mute 
resignation, nor in an ascetic retreat from the world ; 
still less was it satisfied with the advice to gather from 
the troubled waters of human life as many pearls of 
pleasure as possible. Higher than pleasure Prodicus 
exalted work, and his practice agreed with his theory. 
He was famous in antiquity among the few who, despite 
their physical infirmities, had completely fulfilled their 
civic duties. He was frequently sent on ambassadorial 
missions on behalf of his native island. His hero and 
model was Hercules, the type of manly strength and 
wholesome activity, and the fact that he took as his 
patron-saint the ancestor of the Lacedaemonian kings may 


have contributed to the honourable welcome which he 
received in Sparta, where foreigners, and, above all, foreign 
teachers of wisdom, were otherwise so severely discouraged. 
Every one is acquainted with the fable of " Hercules at the 
parting of the ways." It is a masterpiece of admonitory 
eloquence in imitation of the Sophoclean fable of the strife 
between Athene and Aphrodite in the "Judgment of 
Paris," and it became in its turn an example for all 
antiquity. Its influence continued till early Christian 
times, when its echoes may be heard in literature in the 
"Shepherd of Hennas" and elsewhere. The work to 
which this fable of Hercules belonged was entitled " The 
Seasons." The rest of its contents is unfortunately un- 
known to us. Perhaps it contained the pessimistic utter- 
ances we have mentioned just now; perhaps, too, as 
a counterpart to these, it sang the praises of the whole- 
some pleasures least open to abuse, such as the joy 
in nature and her works which our philosopher could 
hardly have omitted in the eulogy of agriculture that is 
ascribed to him. Thus, then, we have been able to 
construct no uncertain outline of the views of Prodicus 
and of his ideal of life. He had drained the dregs of 
human bitterness, and he resisted the effects of that 
draught by exalting the virtue of manly valour. It was 
to expect but little from passive enjoyment, but was rather 
to look for satisfaction to the exercise of its own strong 
powers, combined with a preference for simple manners 
and plain living. Nor was Prodicus merely the eloquent 
preacher of a partially new ideal. The subtle intellect 
betrayed in his disquisitions " On Correct Language " was 
not wanting in his ethical studies. He introduced a con- 
ception in moral philosophy which played an important 
part in the school of the Cynics, and in that of the Stoics, 
their successors. It was the conception of objects in- 
different in themselves, on which a value was impressed 
only by the right use to which they were put if the dictates 
of reason were obeyed. In this class of objects he reckoned 
riches, and most of what we call external goods. We 
shall presently have occasion to remark how nearly he 


approached in this connection to the teachings of Socrates. 

Meantime, we have still to consider one doctrine of the 

sage of Ceos his speculation on the origin of the belief 

in gods. He conjectured that those natural objects which 

exercise the most lasting and beneficent influence on 

human life were the first to be paid divine honours. 

Among these he counted the sun, the moon, the rivers 

(reminding his readers at that point of the Egyptian 

worship of the Nile), and he added to the list the fruits of 

the field, at which point he might have mentioned certain 

Babylonian customs. Next to these natural objects he 

reckoned the heroes of civilization who were deified by 

mankind in grateful recognition of their important and 

beneficial inventions. On this theory Dionysus would at 

one time have been a man, an argument which tallies 

with the phrase of John Henry Voss in our own century * 

about "the deified inventor of wine." It is to be noted 

that Prodicus, though by no means completely on the 

right road, succeeded at least in exposing the fetishistic 

among the roots of religious conceptions. And if it be asked 

whether he assumed that a real objective basis was at the 

back of those conceptions, or that the reality of the 

Divine was to be repudiated once for all, we may safely 

reply that the first supposition is correct. Otherwise it 

would be inexplicable that a man of such orthodox 

tendencies as Xenophon should have spoken of Prodicus 

with unfailing honour and respect, and that Perseus, a 

famous representative of the Stoics and the favourite 

pupil of Zeno, the founder of that rigidly Pantheistic 

school, should have expressed his approval of these 

tenets of Prodicus, in his book " On the Gods/' We are 

accordingly impelled to the opinion that the edge of 

the polemic in that explanatory attempt was aimed at 

the gods of popular belief, and was not intended to 

divest the universe of all that it contained of divinity. 

5. We have seen that Prodicus was occupied with 
studies in nature and language, with problems of moral 
philosophy, and with the history of religion, When wq 

* 1834- 


reach the name of Hippias, however, we find that Prodicus 
was greatly surpassed in versatility of talents and employ- 
ments. The kaleidoscopic genius of Hippias was applied to 
all the arts in turn. He was astronomer, geometer, arithme- 
tician ; he wrote on phonetics, rhythm, and music ; he 
discussed the theories of sculpture and painting ; he was 
at once mythologist and ethnologist, and a student of 
chronology and mnemonics. Moreover, he was the author 
of moral admonitions, and he had acted in the capacity of 
ambassador on behalf of his native city, Elis, in the 
Peloponnesus. Nor does this exhaust the sum of his 
achievements. Poetical works of the most diverse kinds 
epics, tragedies, epigrams, and dithyrambs flowed con- 
tinuously from his pen. Finally, he had mastered most 
of the industrial arts. On one occasion he appeared 
at the Olympic gathering in garments every part of 
which, from the sandals on his feet to the plaited girdle 
round his waist, and the very rings on his fingers, had 
been manufactured by his own hand. We children of 
this generation, who have carried the principle of the 
division of labour to extremes, are hardly able to take in 
serious account a Jack-of-all-trades of this kind. But 
previous ages have felt and judged differently. There 
have been times when the man counted for much more 
than his work, when the necessary dissipation of forces 
entailed did not seem too heavy a price to pay for giving 
full play to personality, for the complete development 
of our slumbering powers, the consciousness of being 
equal to almost any task, and of being helpless before no 
difficulty, and for the ambition and ability to master 
every kind of employment. Thus men thought in the 
age of Pericles, and thus too in the Italian Renaissance. 
In the last-named era, indeed, we meet an exact counter- 
part to Hippias. Leone Battista Alberti of Venice, who 
lived from 1404 to 1472, was equally brilliant as architect, 
painter, musician, prose-writer, and poet, in the Italian as 
well as in the Latin tongue. He discussed the theory of 
domestic economy in the intervals of his studies on the 
plastic arts ; he was renowned among the wits of his age, 


and he bore himself like a master among the gym- 
nasts. Finally, he had acquainted himself with " all the 
industries of the world" by questioning "craftsmen of 
every kind, even down to the shoemaker, on their secrets 
and experiences." 

It is obvious that the value of these various achievements 
could not possibly be uniformly excellent. The poems of 
Hippias have disappeared without a trace, not altogether, 
we may presume, to the loss of the poet He made no 
mean contributions to the progress of geometry. H is system 
of mnemonics, in which the poet Simonides was his sole 
precursor, is said to have produced remarkable results. 
By its aid he was enabled, even as an old man, to repeat 
fifty proper names which he* had heard for the first time 
without omitting or misplacing a single one. His chrono- 
logical work was a " List of the Olympic Victors," which 
undoubtedly supplied an urgent demand of the age, with 
its deficient historiographical resources, and which was 
supplemented by kindred attempts, such as the history 
of Hellanicus, with its divisions corresponding to the suc- 
cession of the priestesses of Hera at Argos. Plutarch, 
we are bound to add, disputed the trustworthiness of the 
lists compiled by Hippias, and we are unable to deter- 
mine how far, if at all, the criticism was deserved. 
Except for an insignificant fragment, we possess no 
remains of his "Collection" of memorable events, save 
only the brief preface, which affords us pleasing evidence 
of the grace of his style, and by no means justifies the 
reproach of a pompous self-conceit which has been levelled 
at Hippias in consequence of Plato's satire. The Hippias 
of that prologue is a wholly unpretentious compiler, whose 
aim it was to select the most important information from 
the narratives of poets and prosewriters, whether Greek or 
barbarian, and to arrange them in homogeneous groups, 
without advancing any other claim whatsoever to origi- 
nality or versatility as an historian. His work, destined 
as it was for entertainment rather than for instruction, 
afforded but a slight handle for critical acumen. Yet 
many valuable remarks were scattered through its pages. 


Accident, for instance, has preserved for us the philo- 
logical memorandum that the word "tyrant" (rvpawoe) 
occurred for the first time in the poems of Archilochus. 
Of the work of Hippias "On National Names" we 
know extremely little, but the little itself would suffice to 
show that this versatile and busy sophist did not shrink 
from labour of a dry-as-dust kind. We may conjecture 
that his studies of the habits and traditions of the most 
diverse peoples may have caused Hippias to attribute such 
considerable importance to the distinction between nature 
and convention which we have already had occasion to 
discuss.* Further, we may remark as a proof of the 
above-mentioned leanings to cosmopolitanism, that 
Hippias the sophist employed non-Hellenic sources of 
history and devoted himself to the annals of barbarian 
tribes with equal impartiality. His life's ideal, which he 
shared with the Cynics whom he had influenced, was " self- 
sufficiency " (av-apKeia). Unluckily, we possess no remains of 
his ethical discourses. His chef (Pceuvre in this field was 
a duologue, the scene of which was fallen Troy, and the 
persons of which were Nestor, the old man eloquent, and 
Neoptolemus, the son of Achilles. In this " Trojan Dia- 
logue," as it is called, probably the earliest instance of its 
kind, the venerable greybeard prince imparted a wealth of 
wise and noble counsel to the youthful, ambitious heir of the 
bravest of the Greeks, and sketched out for him a rule of 
life. Another of the moralist's themes was a comparison 
between Achilles and Ulysses, in which the palm was 
bestowed on the first-named on account of his greater love 
for truth, a virtue which the Greeks did not commonly 
prize too highly. These and similar pieces, which were 
composed by Hippias in a choice but flowing and natural 
style, won their author .very considerable success when he 
recited them at the great games and in all quarters through 
the length and breadth of Hellas. He was made a free- 
man of a large number of cities, and the material rewards 
that accrued to him were by no means on a small scale. 
With Hippias, as with Prodicus, it is a significant feature 

* Bk. IILCh. IV. 6. 
VOL. I. 2 F 


that he was held In high esteem by the Spartans, with 
their old-fashioned and home-keeping ideas, whom he 
seems to have delighted by his lectures on history ana 

6. It is hardly legitimate to count Hippias of Ells as 
a product of the age of emancipation, and in the instance 
of the sophist Antiphon, such a view would be wholly 
inadmissible. Though he is reckoned among the less 
important members of his order, yet at one and the same 
time he was not merely moralist and metaphysician, 
physicist and geometer, but also a soothsayer and an 
interpreter of dreams. He was the author of a work 
" On Truth," consisting of two books, in the fragmentary 
remains of the second of which we encounter physical 
teachings with a strong reminiscence of older doctrines 
of the kind. The first book treated more generally of 
metaphysics or the theory of knowledge. It was the 
occasion for a polemic against the hypostasy or " objecti- 
fication" of ideas. We no longer know at whom its 
point was directed, nor would it be easy to determine 
it to-day. When Antiphon speaks of time as "a con- 
ception or a measure, not a substance," it is just conceiv- 
able that he was thinking of those mythical or half- 
mythical representations in which Chronos or the time- 
principle appeared as a primary being.* This expedient, 
however, it must be acknowledged, is incompatible with 
another fragment, in which we read as follows : " He 
who recognizes any long objects neither sees length 
with his eyes nor can perceive It with his mind." The 
idea of length apparently had a typical meaning in that 
instance. The true point at issue was undoubtedly the 
substantial existence of general ideas, and Antiphon 
might fairly be called the earliest of the nominalists. 
We hear of very similar utterances in Antisthenes 
and Theopompus, who disputed the Platonic theory 
of ideas, but that theory was not in existence at the 
time that Antiphon, the contemporary of Socrates, was 
wielding his pen. We must accordingly abandon the 
* Cp.Bk. I. CLII.fa. 


search for the actual adversary with whom Antiphon was 
fighting. It is enough to recollect that the language 
which expresses abstractions by substantives, thus lending 
them the semblance of objectivity, has always paved the way 
for a naive and rudimentary realism,* in the philosophical 
sense of the word, traces of which, indeed, are not wanting 
in the age we are considering. Among the other lost works 
of Antiphon antiquity possessed his " Art of Consolations/' 
from which we trace the beginning of a new and fertile 
branch of letters. But the chief of all his writings was a 
treatise "On Concord." It was renowned in anti- 
quity for its rich style, for the even flow of its diction, and 
for the extraordinary wealth of its ideas virtues which 
can still be traced in its few fragmentary remains. It 
was a work of practical philosophy, in which self-seeking, 
and weak will, and the sluggishness which looks on life 
as though it were a game of chess that could be renewed 
after a defeat, and anarchy "the worst of human 
evils " were mercilessly flagellated, while the self- 
control that is produced by a thorough knowledge of 
the appetites, and, above all, the power of education, 
were warmly praised and brilliantly delineated. 

The fragments of this treatise have lately received a 
considerable addition through a discovery as ingenious as 
it is certain, and its new pieces will be found to teem with 
passages of fruitful instruction. They reveal, for instance, 
a fine sense of human nature, as may be seen from the 
following extract : " Men never wish to render honour to 
another, for they believe that thereby they derogate from 
their own respect." But it is more important to note that 
in these long connected fragments we possess our earliest 
example of the kind of moral instruction which was im- 
parted by the sophists. We gain at last authoritative 
evidence for a fact long ago perceived and expressed by 
the more thoughtful historians, though never credited except 
by isolated readers. Thus Grote, about half a century ago, 
wrote that the sophists "were the regular teachers of 
Greek morality, neither above nor below the standard of 

*Bk. Il.Ch. II 


the age." It is possible that this generalization went a 
little too far and taxed the originality of individual sophists 
too heavily, but on one point at least there should 
never have been any doubt. It was a sheer impossibility 
for the sophists, dependent as they were on wide orders 
of the public, to promulgate anti-social doctrines. They 
were far more liable to the danger of preaching, if we 
may so express ourselves, doctrines of a hyper-social 
tendency, and of subjecting the individual to the tyranny 
of public opinion in perhaps too high a degree, or, not to 
exaggerate their influence, of becoming at least the mouth- 
piece of opinions of that kind. 

Such, at any rate, is the impression which we derive 
from the new fragments. We recognize there modes of 
thought and feeling conceivable only in a democratic com- 
munity, and realized at the present time hardly anywhere 
else than in the Swiss Republic and in the United States 
of America. The desire to conciliate the good-will of one's 
fellow-citizens, and to take one's place among them as a 
man of reputation and esteem, was manifested here with 
exceptional intensity. It is not our business to form a 
judgment on the advantages and disadvantages of a social 
condition of this kind, or of the moral atmosphere which 
it is calculated to engender. But it is legitimate to point 
out that the wholesome effects it exercises in the repression 
of impulses for the common hurt, and in stimulating 
enterprises for the common weal, must necessarily be 
counterbalanced by a danger of no mean significance. It 
is a danger which would affect that domain of life in which 
multiformity of development and independence of action are 
indispensable to the success of individual life, and tend 
therefore indirectly to promote the general prosperity of all. 
It may be conceded that individual liberty in the Athens of 
the fifth century B.C. was far less exposed to this risk at the 
hands of the tyrannous majority than among most other 
peoples and in most other times. In evidence of this, we 
commend to the attention of every one who has not yet 
made acquaintance with it the funeral oration of Pericles, 
which Thucydides has preserved, and which forms one ol 


the most precious monuments to the spirit of genuine 
freedom in the possession of mankind. Still, the new 
fragments of Antiphon bear witness to a mode of thought 
which submitted the individual once for all to the service 
of the community, or rather, as not a few may have held, 
which submitted him to the servitude of collective medi- 
ocrity, And, this being the case, we are now in a position 
to understand the protest and reaction of some superior 
and self-conscious minds. Speeches such as Plato put in 
the mouth of Callicles, the sworn foe of the sophists and 
the contemner of the mob, become still more comprehen- 
sible to us than they previously were. Nay, in some of 
the expressions of the resurgent Antiphon, in the bitter 
polemic, for instance, against the erroneous doctrine that 
obedience to the laws is cowardice, we seem to be listening 
to a protest against the opinions sustained by Callicles in 
the "Gorgias," and incarnated in real life in the persons 
of a Critias and an Alcibiades. 

Education, to come back to that topic, was promoted 
by Antiphon to the highest rank in human affairs. "Ac- 
cording to the seeds," he tells us, "that are sown in the 
earth, so are the fruits that the reaper may expect. And 
if a noble disposition be planted in a young mind, it will 
engender a flower that will endure to the end, and that 
no rain will destroy, nor will it be withered by drought," 
This paragraph reminds us of similar reflections expressed 
in like style by Protagoras, the chief and noblest of the 
sophists. Our readers are already acquainted with the 
name of this extraordinary man, and we have now to try 
to delineate his features as fully and faithfully as our scanty 
materials permit 



i. PROTAGORAS was a son of Abdera, where he breathed 
the air of free thought. It is hardly to be doubted that he 
enjoyed the intercourse of Leucippus, his older fellow- 
countryman, and of Democritus, his younger contemporary. 
But the investigation of Nature did not by any means 
monopolize his interest, which was primarily directed to 
human affairs. Before his thirtieth year he had adopted 
the profession, new at that time, of an itinerant teacher or 
sophist. He had paid repeated visits to Athens, where he 
was honoured with the in,timate friendship of Pericles, and 
stood in close relationship with Euripides and other eminent 
men. As a teacher his services were in eager requisition, 
and his instruction centred, as we have seen, in a 
preparation for public life. It admitted excursions in every 
direction : oratory and its auxiliary arts, education, juris- 
prudence, politics, and ethics, engaged his fertile and re- 
sourceful mind. He was a man of many-sided endowments, 
and was equally successful in inventing an apparatus for 
the use of porters as in performing the task of a legislator. 
He wac employed in the last-named capacity in the spring 
of 443, when the colony of Thurii was founded by Athens in 
the heart of a fruitful plain, close to the ruins of Sybaris. 
The instructions which Protagoras received from Pericles 
on that occasion were probably to the effect that he should 
adapt the laws of the "subtle" Charondas, which were 
current in many parts of Lower Italy, to the peculiar 
Conditions of the new settlement. And Protagoras carried 


out his instructions by making those laws yet more subtle 
than they had been. This political mission was the summit 
of his life and work. Some of the most illustrious Greeks 
of that age made their home at Thurii, and others 
were constantly passing through it, so that Protagoras, 
wandering through the halls of the beautiful and regular 
city built on the plans of Hippodamus, might converse one 
day with Herodotus on questions of ethnology, and on 
another with Empedocles on problems of natural science. 
All the Greek tribes were represented in the brilliant life 
of Thurii, and the division of the citizens into ten pro- 
vinces was a proof of the Pan-Hellenic principle of its 
foundation, which, in conjunction with its rapid and peace- 
ful rise, might be taken as a happy omen for the future 
unity of Hellas. But if Protagoras and his brother sophists, 
with the rest of the prose-writers and poets who were the 
true vehicles of the national idea, were buoyed up by hopes 
of this kind, they were doomed to the bitterest disappoint- 
ment. Hardly ten years elapsed before the two leading 
powers, Athens and Sparta, were ranged against one 
another in a death struggle. All Hellas was split into 
two hostile camps. Protagoras was in Athens at the time 
when the fearful ravages of pestilence were added to the 
horrors of war. He was thus a witness of the heroism 
displayed by his patron Pericles under the heaviest 
calamity : 

" His sons," wrote Protagoras, after Pericles' too early death, 
" perished within a week in the beauty of their youth, and he bore 
it without repining. For he clung to his attitude of serene repose, 
which permitted him every day to enjoy welfare, tranquillity, and 
popular fame, for every man who saw him bear his own. sorrow 
with strength would recognize that Pericles was noble and manly 
and much better than himself, seeing that he would be found 
wanting in a similar trial." 

Thus the closing years of the life of Protagoras were 
darkened by the shadows of national misfortune, in which 
Athens was the greatest sufferer, but he was at least spared 
the burdens of extreme old age. For this he was indebted 


to one of those sudden impulses of intolerance against 
which the populace of Athens was never sufficiently proof. 
Protagoras was almost seventy years of age when, in 
reliance on his reputation and on the record of an honour- 
able career, he ventured to give undisguised, though at the 
same time temperate, utterance to somewhat more auda- 
cious ideas than usual. It is said to have been in the house 
of Euripides that he first had his book " On the Gods " re- 
cited, thus introducing it to publicity according to ancient 
usage. A smart cavalry officer, the wealthy Pythodorus, was 
the self-chosen instrument of the salvation of society. Pytho- 
dorus was a political malcontent, who was presently to take 
part in the conspiracy of the Four Hundred against the 
existing constitution. In the present instance he was the 
chief cause of the prosecution of Protagoras for impiety. 
The book ** On the Gods " was condemned. The copies 
that had already been published were confiscated and burnt. 
Protagoras himself probably left Athens before his convic- 
tion, and betook himself to Sicily, but he suffered shipwreck 
on the way, and found a watery grave. Euripides, his friend, 
dedicated, if we are not mistaken, an elegy to him in the 
two concluding verses of the chorus in the tragedy of 
"Palamedes," produced in the spring of 415 B.C., "Yea, 
ye have killed her, the all-wise ; alas for the blameless 
nightingale of the Muses ! " 

Well might the fate of Protagoras, surnamed " Wisdom " 
itself, recall the memory of Palamedes, Palamedes the 
inventor, envied for his wisdom, the victim of a hateful 
charge. But for us, at least, it is difficult to gain a clear 
conception of the grounds on which the contemporary 
admiration of Protagoras rested. We seek them in vain 
in the fragments, barely twenty lines long, the very mean- 
ing of which is contested by the commentators. We 
inquire for them in vain from witnesses whose evidence is 
largely coloured by prejudice, who have bequeathed to us 
a chaotic collection of partly unwarranted and partly in- 
comprehensible tidings, preserved by the pen of a positively 
miserable compiler. We review the description of Plato, 
the brilliancy of which is dimmed by its plainly polemical 


tendency, and we compare with that description the 
contradictory Platonic allusions in which fact and infer- 
ence, jest and earnest, mingle their diverse hues. For 
these, and of this kind, are the materials out of which we 
have to reconstruct the image of the significance of Prota- 

2. Protagoras, in the first instance, was a successful 
and a celebrated teacher. In that capacity he had 
reflected on the problem of education, and his utterances 
on that subject betoken a calm and impartial mind, 
wholly free from prepossessions. We read that " Teaching 
requires natural disposition and exercise, and must be 
begun in youth," that "Neither theory without practice 
nor practice without theory avails at all," and, again 
that " Culture does not flourish in the soul unless one 
reaches a great deepness." The last of these fragments, 
selected from the few that have been preserved to us, 
recalls in a striking degree a weighty maxim in the 
gospels.* As a teacher Protagoras was the first to 
introduce grammar in his curriculum, and it is one of the 
most remarkable facts in the history of Greek thought 
that before him there was not the remotest attempt to dis- 
tinguish the forms of expression nor to analyze and reduce 
them to principles of speech. It is true that a few of the 
most obvious differences, such as that between a verb and 
a noun, were known in the uses of language, but even 
in respect to these elementary notions much had to be 
done before their boundaries were sharply defined or their 
names consistently employed. As to what is meant by 
an adverb or preposition, or the rules of the moods and 
tenses, neither Pindar nor ^Eschylus had the faintest 
conception of those matters. The art of language never 
passed through its days of apprenticeship. The master 
was born with full powers before any attempts had been 
made to define the rules of his craft. This fact obviously 
contained a useful hint for practice. It suggested that 
the proper use of language might be largely independent 
of the conscious knowledge of its rules, and that it might 

* Matt. xiii. 5, 


be neither necessary nor advantageous to dazzle the brain 
of a mere child with the lights of grammatical and logical 
abstractions. But we do not propose to discuss these 
questions here. The age of Protagoras was marked by a 
great awakening of curiosity, by an attempt to co-ordinate 
all the material of knowledge, and by a universal search 
for causes and rules. Nothing, then, was more natural or 
more just than that the chief instrument of thought and 
its communication should have been submitted to the 
methods of philosophy. So Protagoras wrote his studies 
in grammar in the form of a book "On Correct Speech/ 1 
and the title affords some indication of the intention of 
the author. The sole really profitable road in the study of 
language the historical was as foreign to Protagoras as 
to the rest of the ancients. Still, the codification of the 
rules of speech afforded a rich field for labour ; nor could 
such an undertaking be attempted in an age which prided 
itself on its reason without occasionally being accompanied 
by experiments in reform. The recognition of a rule of 
language led to the inquiry for its cause, or rather, ac- 
cording to the view obtaining in that epoch, for the 
intention of the legislator in the sphere of language. Now 
that intention was found to be either incompletely or in- 
consistently carried out, and an attempt would accordingly 
be made to restore the work of the legislator in its pristine 
purity by removing the apparent exceptions, much as a 
corrupt manuscript is purged of the mistakes of copyists. 
It was probably in this spirit that Protagoras, whom we 
have good reason to regard as an adherent of the "con- 
ventional " theory of language, approached the problems of 
that study. The knowledge of linguistic rules resting on 
observation, and the consequent instructions for the correct 
use of language, formed probably the chief contents of 
his book. There were added to them a few suggestions for 
linguistic reforms. Protagoras was the first to distinguish 
the several tenses of the verb and the moods of predica- 
tion. These last he entitled the " stems " of speech, with 
wishes, questions, answers, and commands as their several 
branches, and those four kinds of clauses were expressed 


In his opinion by the four moods of the verb which we 
call optative, conjunctive, indicative, and imperative. In one 
instance the conjunctive it must be admitted, however, 
that the identification was not established without a certain 
amount of violence. Protagoras seems to have gone chiefly 
to Homer for his examples of these and other rules of 
speech, and for the exceptions which he affected to find 
to them. For we cannot put it down to mere chance that, 
out of the three excursions in grammatical criticism 
which have reached us from the works of Protagoras, two 
refer to the first two words of the first verse of the Iliad. 
It may have gratified the critic to add the charge of 
linguistic inaccuracy to the severe judgment which 
Xenophanes had passed on the contents of that renowned 
poem. Thus he argued that the imperative in "Sing, 
goddess, the wrath," was incorrectly employed, inasmuch as 
the poet, In addressing the Muse, would not use a command, 
but merely a wish or a prayer. Further, the Greek word 
jUTjvie (" wrath ") should in his opinion have been masculine, 
and not of the feminine gender. We cannot pretend to 
dogmatize on the meaning of this last remark. It has 
probably been correctly taken to convey the opinion that 
the passion of anger is a manly rather than a womanly 
characteristic. It would, however, be extravagant to assume 
that Protagoras was bold enough to undertake the whole- 
sale reform of the genders of substantives through the 
length and breadth of the Greek language. If he had 
made so audacious an attempt, we should certainly have 
heard more about it than an occasional reference in 
Aristotle to jurjvtc and one other word. 

The following account is probably more correct. In 
no domain of language are the traces of its wild growth 
so clear as in the genders of impersonal substantives. The 
remarkable fact that several language-groups regard the 
inanimate to a large extent as animate, and therefore as 
partly masculine and partly feminine, springs from the 
same personifying impulse which we have already seen at 
work in the beginnings of religious conceptions.* The 
* Cp, Introd., 5. 


impulse to personification proper was accompanied by a 
sense of analogy of an extraordinarily refined and sensitive 
character. The moving, active, nervous, sharp, spare, and 
hard were regarded as masculine ; the resting, passive, 
gentle, tender, broad, and soft, as feminine. But opposed 
to these analogies of sense were secondary analogies of 
form, and the two influences crossed one another at various 
points. If a substantival termination had once been appro- 
priated by preference to either sex, a new formation of 
the same kind would take the same gender, frequently 
without regard to the meaning of the word. In other 
instances, and especially in times when the creative force 
of language was still unbroken, the authority of the mean- 
ing would outweigh the authority of the form. These 
factors help to explain the confusing abundance of excep- 
tions to the rules of gender, built partly on the community 
of sense and partly on that of form, which are the despair 
of the modern schoolboy. Now, Protagoras, as a son of 
the age of free thought, felt no restraint of piety in deal- 
ing with the naivetg of primitive man ; he had, as we shall 
find in other instances, a strong sense for rational correctness, 
and he was accordingly at pains to introduce occasionally 
something like order in the chaotic condition of language. 
The second authentic example of the grammatical criticism 
of Protagoras attached to the word 7r?iAii meaning a helmet 
of war. This word, though feminine in Greek, he wished to 
see employed as masculine. If we search for his reasons 
we may probably reject the supposition that he was 
following a common principle which would make all 
substantives relating to the manly arts of warfare of the 
masculine gender. He was probably guided by a less 
general consideration. The termination - is commonly a 
sign of the feminine gender, but the rule is by no means 
without exceptions. And among those exceptions three 
words are found which designate parts of the accoutre- 
ments of war. Protagoras, examining these three words, 
made that community of meaning responsible for their 
exception, and he wished accordingly to bring the fourth 
word under the same exceptional legislation. Further 


in respect to the word firjvig mentioned above, his criticism 
may have been supported by the observation that the 
termination -*c is very far from being confined to sub- 
stantives of the feminine gender. We cannot hope to 
determine whether or not a jest of Aristophanes, which is 
doubtless justly referred to our sophist's attempts at reform, 
was founded on an actual fact. But if it was, we see 
that Protagoras wished to supply a defect in the older 
Greek language which used the word corresponding to our 
" cock " for both sexes indifferently. He wished to form a 
feminine "cockess," much in the same way as we speak 
of a " lioness " and " tigress " as well as of a " lion " and 

3. The conception of correctness confronts us again as 
a leading thought peculiar to Protagoras in other fields of 
his activity. One of the writings in which he treated of 
ethics bore the title " On the Incorrect Actions of Man- 
kind." Another of his works on moral philosophy was 
called " The Imperative Speech " a title which is consistent 
with the tone of dogmatic certainty in which Plato's Pro- 
tagoras speaks in his most characteristic vein. We are 
not aware how he treated the subject of ethics, though we 
may presume that he did not make any very original 
departure from the common Greek type. And we are 
similarly ignorant of the contents of his treatise "On the 
State" or "On the Constitution." There he may have 
discussed the question of criminal law which will shortly 
engage our attention, and in which he endeavoured to 
determine who "in accordance with correct opinion" was 
the truly guilty man. We are reminded at this point of 
the ridicule poured by Plato on the attempts of Protagoras 
to reduce all human action and conduct to arts or systems 
of rules, and we may recall, for the sake of comparison, 
two sentences from the above-mentioned treatise " On the 
Art," * which in thought and expression is so closely akin ' 
to Protagoras. " But is it not Art," we read, " when the 
correct and the incorrect both have their limits assigned 
to them? For I call it non-Art when there is neither 
* Cp. Bk. III. Ch.V.3. 


anything correct nor anything incorrect." Here we see 
the same powerful craving for rational insight, and the 
rationalization of all departments of human life, which we 
have already marked as a characteristic of the whole age, 
which we shall find in its fullest development in the 
doctrines of Socrates, and which was extremely active 
in Protagoras himself. It enabled him to drag the 
creations of law, not less than those of language, before 
the judgment-seat of reason. We are but slightly ac- 
quainted with what he achieved in that direction, but the 
little we know is eminently noteworthy. 

The gossips of Athens used to amuse themselves by 
telling of a conversation protracted for many hours betweer 
Pericles, the leading statesman, and Protagoras, the foreigr 
sophist. Its theme seemed hardly worthy of the time and 
interest of at least the first of the interlocutors. One of 
the participators in the game of throwing the spear had 
unintentionally killed a bystander, and Pericles and Prota- 
goras were said to have argued a whole day long as tc 
who was the guilty party. Was it the deviser of the game, 
or the competitor who threw the spear, or, finally, the 
spear itself ? It is this item of the interrogatory which 
excites our astonishment, and tempts us to regard the whole 
story, despite its excellent authority, as a sorry jest. But, 
as a matter of fact, it is precisely this problem of the speat 
which affords the key to the whole matter. To our thinking 
the conviction of inanimate objects is just as absurd as the 
execution of unreasoning animals. But the ancients held 
a different opinion, which did not expire with the Greeks, 
Lawsuits against animals were admitted in the Greek and 
Roman codes, as well as in the old Scandinavian, the old 
Persian, the Hebraic, and the Slavonic. Medievalism is 
full of them, and they extend far across the frontier oi 
modern times. The judicial rolls of France tell us ol 
bulls and swine who ended their life on the gallows 
in the fifteenth, sixteenth, and even in the beginning 
of the seventeenth century. The custom still flourishes 
in the East, and the last traces of it in Western history are 
found as late as 1793 and 1845 A,D. The first-named date 


refers to the very time when Cambacer&s was occupied in 
elaborating the judicial reform which has found its place in 
the Code Napoleon. If he had attended the execution of 
a sentence passed on a dog by the revolutionary tribunal 
on the twenty-seventh of Brumaire in the year II. at the 
sign of "The Bull Fight" in Paris, the disgust of this 
modern master of jurisprudence could not have been in any 
way greater than that of the Greek sophist at Athens, 
who saw weapons and other inanimate objects which had 
caused the death of a man convicted, purified, and 
solemnly banished from the country. It is quite con- 
ceivable, then, that the conversation in question may have 
grown out of some spectacle of that kind. But it is fair 
to believe that it would not have stopped there. It was 
a quarrel, as Hegel said, "about the great and important 
question of responsibility ; " nay, we may add, about the 
yet greater and more important question of the purpose of 
punishment. Protagoras was just the man to found on 
that extreme case of glaring unreason, or "incorrectness/* 
as he would have said, familiar to every one from such 
proceedings of the tribunal near the Prytaneum, a discussion 
which was gradually to lead to an exalted goal, which was 
to examine the value and nature of the existing criminal 
law, to lay bare its chief bases the instinct of retaliation, 
and the craving for atonement and thence to proceed to 
the question whether it were legitimate for such reasons to 
afflict members of human society with grievous suffering, 
and, finally, to seek for some more tenable basis on which 
to build up a system of criminal law. Nor, when we ask 
where he found that basis, are we reduced to mere guess- 
work. We may listen to Protagoras in the Platonic dia- 
logue of that name raising an emphatic protest against the 
mere brutal retaliation of an injury done, and energetically 
proclaiming the deterrent theory of punishment; and, 
listening thus, we may fancy ourselves once more in 
the chamber of Pericles overhearing the earnest and 
eager commerce of speech, and better fathoming the 
depths of the argument than was vouchsafed to Xanthip- 
pus, our authority, the degenerate son of Pericles, or to 


Stesimbrotus, the scavenging pamphleteer, to whom he 
confided the tidings. 

4. The question suggests itself, What was the attitude 
of the powerful and critical mind of Protagoras towards the 
problems of theology ? That early literary auto-da-fc which 
it has been our melancholy duty to report, has robbed us 
of the accurate answer to this question. One sentence alone 
has been saved in its entirety from the ruins. It was the 
sentence which stood at the beginning of the doomed book, 
and which ran as follows : 

" In respect to the gods, I am unable to know either that they 
are or that they are not, for there arc many obstacles to such 
knowledge, above all the obscurity of the matter, and the life of 
man, in that it is so short." 

We are overwhelmed here by a flood of questions. What, 
we ask first, can have been the contents of the book, the 
opening sentence of which removed the subject it treated 
from the domain of human knowledge, and thus, as it 
might seem, settled it out of court ? We can do nothing 
more than take the few, words that have been preserved, 
scrutinize them as closely as possible, and expatiate on 
them as accurately as we may. And the first point that 
strikes us is the repetition of the word "know/' and the 
emphasis that it derives from such repetition. For the 
ancients distinguished the two conceptions of knowledge 
and belief in the domain of which we are speaking, fully as 
strictly as we are wont to do ourselves. We need hardly 
recall the definite distinction drawn by Parmenides, with 
all the consequences it entailed, between cognition and 
opinion which engaged our attention in speaking of Par- 
menides and of his disciples. Even in the Greek vernacular 
we find that religious convictions, headed by the assumption 
of the existence of gods, were expressed by a term (vo/u&iv) 
which had nothing whatsoever in common with scientific 
cognition. We are accordingly impelled to follow the 
valuable hint given by Christian August Lobeck, and to 
contend that the subject of those discussions was not the 
belief in the gods, but the cognition of the gods. Add to 


this that there are various other circumstances which make 
it in the highest degree improbable that Protagoras would 
have consented to assail such beliefs or even to call them 
in doubt. In the first place, Plato tells us of the remarkable 
procedure by which the sophist was accustomed to settle 
any quarrel about the amount of the honorarium owing 
to him. If a disciple refused to pay the fee demanded by 
his teacher after the conclusion of the course, the sophist 
would invite him to declare on oath in a temple the amount 
at which he himself estimated the value of the instruction 
he had received. And, secondly, we may quote the by no 
means negligible evidence of the manner in which the 
Platonic Protagoras described the beginnings of human 
society. For it is at least extremely improbable that a 
master of characterization like Plato should have put a 
legend, filled from beginning to end with the gods and their 
intervention in the fate of mankind, in the mouth of a man 
who, though only at the end of his life, stood revealed as 
an opponent of divine worship. The improbability is 
heightened by the following sentence, to which Protagoras 
was made to give expression : 

" Now man, having a share of the divine attributes, was at first 
the only one of the animals who had any gods, because he alone 
was of their kindred; and he would raise altars and images of 

Thus everything leads us to the conclusion that the Prota- 
gorean fragment above mentioned did not call in question 
the theological belief, but the scientific or reasonable know- 
ledge of the existence of the gods. Next we may take the 
Greek word which we have rendered by " obscurity." In the 
original it possesses a particular shade of meaning signifying 
the contrary of " sensibleness." In that connection the 
reference to the "obscurity" as an obstacle to cognition 
signified neither more nor less than that the gods were 
not the objects of direct sense-perception. But in default 
of perception its place is taken by inference a generali- 
zation not only common to universal human thought, 
but directly traceable in the literature of the age we 
VOL. I. 3 G 


are discussing. Thus the warning as to the shortness 
of the life of man could have been inserted for no other 
purpose than to remind us that the brief span of time by 
which our existence is bounded affords no adequate em- 
pirical material on which to base the requisite arguments 
for affirming or denying the existence of gods. Thus far 
this valuable fragment may be interpreted with certainty, 
The rest is conjecture. We do not know what contem- 
porary experiments Protagoras had in his mind to prove or 
disprove the existence of the gods, in order to justify his 
indictment of their inadequacy, and to recommend in their 
stead the suspension of judgment as the one safe method 
of thought ; nor, without that knowledge, have we any 
trustworthy ground for argument. All that we can say is 
that Protagoras replaced the confidence of Yea and Nay 
by reminding his readers of the narrow limits of human 
cognition. Thus his name marks an important chapter in 
the history of the development of scientific thought. It 
may well be that he would have assented to the words 
written down by Ernest Renan shortly before his death in 
1892 : "'We know nothing.* That is all that can be said 
with certainty on what lies beyond the Finite. Let us 
affirm nothing, let us deny nothing, let us hope." 

5. From theology to metaphysics is only a step. Here 
again a single sentence has to do duty for a whole book. 
The work in question was known by three different titles, 
"On Being," "Truth," and "The 'Throwing 1 Discourses." 
The third of these titles, with its metaphor from wrestling, 
shows us that a considerable portion of this treatise was 
polemical in character, and we are not wholly unaware of 
the butt of the attack. According to a late reader of the 
work in antiquity, the Neo-Platonist Porphyry, who died not 
long after 300 A.D., Protagoras directed the shafts of his 
polemic against the Eleatics. The single sentence which 
has been preserved, and which was again the opening 
sentence of the book, ran as follows : " Man is the measure 
of all things, of those which are, that they are, and of those 
which are not, that they are not." We are struck at once 
by the resemblance in style between the metaphysical ancj 


the theological fragments, and we are struck no less by 
their common need of interpretation. The first thing to be 
done in this instance is to determine what the important 
and, unfortunately, wholly isolated fragment cannot be. It 
cannot possess an ethical meaning ; it cannot be the shib- 
boleth of any moral subjectivism, to which the sentence has 
not unfrequently been turned in the hands of popular expo- 
sitors. Neither the text of the utterance nor its point 
directed against the Eleatic doctrine of unity offers the 
slightest handle to any explanation of that kind. One fact 
may be stated with absolute certainty. The phrase about 
man as the measure of things the homo-mensura tenet, 
as it has been suitably abbreviated was a contribution 
to the theory of cognition. Moreover " man/* as opposed to 
the totality of objects, was obviously not the individual, but 
mankind as a whole. No unprejudiced reader will require 
to be convinced that this is at least the more natural and 
the more obvious meaning. Goethe, for example, was a 
reader of that kind. He made but a cursory reference to 
the Protagorean phrase, but the intuitive instinct of his 
genius was a better guide to its meaning than a thousand 
uninspired commentators : 

"We may watch Nature," wrote Goethe, "measure her, 
reckon her, weigh her, etc., as we will. It is yet but our measure 
and weight, since man is the measure of things." 

We have thus seen reason to favour the non-individual 
but generic interpretation of " man," and our preference, 
we believe, can be turned to a certainty by a strictly 
logical argument Hitherto the tradition of the experts, 
which has only recently been seriously shaken, has held 
fast to the individualistic meaning, the adherents of which, 
in our opinion, must take one or the other of two roads 
of thought, both of which we venture to characterize as 
erroneous. In the one instance the facts may just be brought 
into harmony with the interpretation, but the grammar 
breaks down ; in the other instance the grammar is admis- 
sible, but the facts are not Supposing that Protagoras 
wished to assert that the individual was the measure of all 


things, he must have been thinking either of the properties 
or of the existence of the things. The first of these 
assumptions is the one which we have called admissible on 
the facts. For the individual differences of sensuous per- 
ceptions had already in that age begun to attract the atten- 
tion of philosophers. But the assumption must surrender 
unconditionally to the little Greek word cJc, which, in 
common with the large majority of philological critics, 
we have rendered by "that," and not by "how," and 
which, as numerous parallel passages, among them the frag- 
ment about the gods by Protagoras himself, show beyond 
dispute, cannot possibly be rendered otherwise. And we 
might further remark, by the way, that by the contrary 
supposition the negative branch of the sentence "of 
those which are not, how they are not" would be devoid 
of all reasonable meaning. For no one would ever have 
been at pains to inquire into the negative properties of 
that which was devoid of being. Thirdly and lastly, the 
appearance of this sentence at the opening of the whole 
book, the comprehensive phrases in which it is clothed, 
and the importance which its author plainly ascribed to 
it all this is hardly compatible with the view that it 
was the promulgation of a truth not unimportant in 
itself, but yet of a subordinate and special character, 
devoted, that is to say, to the individual variation of the 
sense perceptions, honey tasting bitter to a man suffering 
from jaundice, and so forth. Coming next to the second 
species of individualistic meaning, we may refute it by 
the following simple consideration. We have only to ask 
what could be meant by setting up the human individual 
as the criterion or standard for the existence of objects, 
in order to see that it would involve the complete jettison 
of -the doctrine of objective reality. It would be an 
expression, and, parenthetically remarked, a somewhat 
awkward expression, for that aspect of the theory of 
knowledge which in modern times is known as the 
phenomenalistic, and which was represented in antiquity 
by that school of Socratics who derived their name of 
Cyrenaics from their seat in Cyrene, in Africa* It is 


the aspect in which there is no room either for " objects " 
' or for the conception of objective being or for 
existence at all, but solely for subjective " affections." 
But, so far as the teaching of Protagoras is concerned, 
there is internal as well as external evidence to show 
beyond the possibility of dispute that it did not coincide 
with that of Aristippus and the 'adherents of his school. 
Let us summarize the heads of our verdict. The famous and 
much controverted fragment which opened "The 'Throwing* 
Discourses" belongs to the theory of cognition. The "man" 
it speaks of is not this or that specimen of the genus, not 
any individual Tom, Dick, or Harry, but universal man. 
The sentence has a generic and not an individual significance. 
Finally, man in this sense is exalted to the measure, not 
of the properties, but of the existence of the objects. 
The evidence of Porphyry in respect to the polemic 
directed against the Eleatic doctrine affords us additional 
support in the attitude we have adopted. It is meet, 
in the .first place, to recall Melissus, the nearest con- 
temporary of Protagoras, and we may account it a 
piece of luck that in . the " Thesis of Melissus " we 
meet the exact counterpart of the Protagorean tenet. 
The Eleatic repudiation of the testimony of the senses 
found a clear exponent in Melissus in the words, " where- 
fore it ensueth that we neither see nor know what is" 
(properly, the beings). This summary denial of the 
reality of the sensuous world is counterbalanced in Pro- 
tagoras by its equally summary affirmation : Man or 
human nature is the standard for the existence of the 
things. In other words, only what is real can be per- 
ceived by us. The unreal cannot supply any object 
to our perception. So much for the leading thought 
of Protagoras, the proof of which has not been preserved 
for us. The emphasis laid on the conception of man 
was doubtless responsible for his secondary thought that 
we men cannot break through the limits of our own 
nature ; that the truth attainable by us must lie within 
those limits ; that, if we reject the evidence of our per- 
ceptive faculties, we have no right to confide in our 


remaining faculties ; and, above all, that in such circum- 
stances there would be no material for cognition left over ' 
for us. Nay, how should we seek for a criterion of truth, 
and what significance could we ascribe to the words " true " 
and "untrue," if we had repudiated root and branch 
human truth, the sole truth within our reach ? 

In the treatise " On the Art," to which we have more 
than once had occasion to refer, the doctrine of Protagoras 
assumed a shape in which it was more closely related, 
and accordingly more sharply contrasted, with the doctrine 
of Melissus. It was promulgated as follows : " What is " 
(properly, the beings) " may always be seen and known, but 
what is-not" (properly, the non-beings) "may never be 
either seen or known." We can imagine the author of the 
treatise posing Melissus with the questions, How can objects 
which we perceive be unreal ? and, How could the unreal 
enter in our field of perception ? At this point we may go 
back to the words preceding the above quotation. We 
read, quite literally, that " if what is-not be equally percep- 
tible with what is, I do not know how any one can regard 
it as non-being, inasmuch as it can be seen with the eye 
and known by the mind as being. But that will not be 

the case. Rather what is " and here ensues the passage 

which we have already cited. It is obvious that we are here 
confronted with an extremely notable argument. A flash of 
relativistic or phenomenalistic thought has illuminated the 
author's mind. He holds fast by the belief that something 
perceptible, some objective reality, corresponds in each 
instance to our perception. But even if that expectation 
happened not to be fulfilled, a man, according to our 
author, would still have to rest contented with what his 
faculties of perception set before his vision. If we may 
venture to complete his argument, he would have said that 
this was the sole truth attainable by man, that it was the 
relative or human truth. " But that will not be the case." 
And here, accordingly, our author turned from the rela- 
tivistic road, revealed to him in a flash of lightning, back to 
the old and naive conception of the world. 

This rehabilitation of the evidence of the senses must 


have reversed the relations between Protagoras and the 
natural philosophers on the one part, and Protagoras and 
Melissus, the " un-natural philosopher," the " stopper-of-the- 
universe," on the other. And, in point of fact, we find in 
the treatise "On the Art," not merely, as has just been 
shown, the homo-mensura tenet, but also the foundations of 
a strictly empirical method and philosophy. We shall 
revert later to these features, but one remark will here be 
in place. There is one scanty piece of testimony for the 
fact that Protagoras occupied himself with mathematics, on 
which, indeed, he wrote a book, and that too makes it clear 
that his mind followed empirical channels. The testimony 
is found in Aristotle, who wrote (in support of his own 
remark, " Lines sensibly perceptible are not of the kind 
which the geometer supposes, for nothing sensibly percep- 
tible is so curved or so straight ") that " Protagoras, in his 
polemic against the geometers, mentions that the tangent 
does not touch the circle at one point only." Now, this 
means neither more nor less than that, to use expressions 
employed by John Stuart Mill, " There exist no real things 
exactly conformable to the definitions. There exist no 
points without magnitude ; no lines without breadth, nor 
perfectly straight ; no circles with all their radii exactly 
equal," etc. On this point, however, there never was any 
conflict of opinion between the adherents of the most diverse 
schools. The conflict began at a later stage, when the 
question was asked whether the definitions of geometry were 
derived from the sensible world, and therefore were only 
approximately true, as abstractions adapted to serve the 
ends of science, or whether they were of & priori origin and 
contained absolute truth in themselves. Protagoras, it Is 
hardly to be doubted, subscribed to the first of these 
opinions. He may even be regarded as its earliest mouth- 
piece, and thus, as a precursor of the thinkers who, like 
Sir John Leslie, Sir John Herschel, Mill, and Helmholtz 
in our own times, have maintained the empirical origin of 
the tenets of geometry, its axioms as well as its defi- 

We have accordingly established the empirical nature 


of the Protagorean method, and our conclusion is corro- 
borated by Plato's view of the homo-mensura tenet. He 
regarded it as wholly identical with the thesis, " Cognition is 
sense perception," or all knowledge rests on such perception. 
And this marks the last legitimate stage in our employ- 
ment of the testimony of Plato. The reason for our re- 
nouncement is simple enough. Henceforward Plato's utter- 
ances on this subject are not the evidence of a witness, 
but attempts to derive from the Protagorean thesis con- 
sequences really or ostensibly contained therein. Plato 
argued somewhat as follows : If the perceptions of sense 
necessarily contain truth, but the perception of one indi- 
vidual differs frequently from that of another, then it is fair 
to infer from that tenet that an equal measure of truth 
belongs even to contradictory perceptions. Moreover, it 
is probable that Protagoras, like the majority of his con- 
temporaries, failed to distinguish with the requisite strict- 
ness between veritable perceptions and the conclusions 
derived from them, thus opening an avenue for Plato's 
further deduction from the tenet of Protagoras that even 
contrary opinions possess the same degree of truth ; in a 
word, that "what appears to each man to be true, is true 
for each man." Here, then, we are face to face with 
the famous so-called Protagorean doctrine, which it would 
be too high an honour to regard as the expression of 
extreme subjectivism or scepticism. As a matter of fact, 
it is hardly distinguishable from blank nonsense. It 
deals the death-blow to all orderly thought, all merely 
rational conduct, as well as to all education, all foresight, 
all science and instruction. And yet this iconoclast, who 
was supposed to have destroyed objective truth, and with it 
to have carried away all rules of universal import, laboured 
for more than forty years in every part of Greece as a 
teacher highly esteemed and in great request, as a celebrated 
rhetorician and author ; he was yet a lecturer whose wealth 
of positive tenets were not merely delivered from the plat- 
form, but were pointed and inculcated with extraordinary 
emphasis, and were promulgated with the force of the pulpit 
And it was the same reputed iconoclast who, as we have 


seen, and as we shall still have occasion to see, assumed 
the functions of a legislator in the most various depart- 
ments of life, and whose distinction between the correct 
and the incorrect, between the right and the wrong, obtained 
in the circle of his thought too much rather than too little 
consideration and esteem. 

The reader may object at this point that we have 
heard expressions of scepticism from the very lips of our 
sophist himself; that he published his doubts as to the 
existence of the gods in language which amply testifies to 
his mental disposition. Perfectly true, we reply. And 
it is precisely from the fragment about the gods that 
we derive our final and irrefutable argument to prove that 
the kind of scepticism which Plato read into the homo- 
mensura tenet was completely alien to the thought of 
its author. For Protagoras based his suspension of judg- 
ment in that single instance on grounds of fact, the roots of 
which were deeply embedded in the nature of the special 
problem itself. Hitherto, we may conceive him to say, no 
one has seen gods ; but human life is too short, and the 
field of our observation too restricted, to affirm or to deny 
with certainty the traces of their activity in the world of 
nature and man. Accordingly he withheld his verdict ; 
in respect to that question, he framed no definite answer 
either in the positive or in the negative. But if the 
maxim that " every man's truth is the truth which appears 
to him" had really been the lodestar of his mind, his 
answer, we take it, would have been different In that 
case we conceive he must necessarily have expressed him- 
self to this effect : Gods exist for those who believe in 
them ; they do not exist for those who do not believe in 

Nor are we reduced to the sophists own sparse authentic 
utterances in order to refute this misconception. Plato 
himself bore witness against it. In the dialogue entitled 
" Protagoras " he drew a picture of the man, the main 
features of which are obviously genuine, though the colours 
are in places too glaring, and though we could dispense with 
some of the less amiable detail. But, as it stands, it has 


nothing whatsoever in common with the sham portrait in 
the "Theaetetus." The same thinker appears in both 
dialogues, but he is characterized in the " Protagoras " by 
an excess rather than a defect of definiteness and dogma- 
tism, though he is represented in the "Thesetetus" as 
denying every distinction between truth and error. It is 
significant, too, that in the earlier of the two dialogues 
Protagoras is introduced as a living man, while in the 
second and much later study he is mentioned as one long 
since dead. In the one the biographer is working on the 
memory of things seen, in the other fancy is playing with 
a shadow or a phantom. The one is a person, the other a 
formula ; in the one case the author is governed by intui- 
tion, in the other by inference. In a word, the " Protagoras " 
shows us a lifelike and finished portrait ; the " Theaetetus " 
is composed of superfine and thin-spun ratiocinations. No 
true student of Plato, whose attention has been called to 
this contrast, will hesitate at all where to look for historical 
truth, nor will doubt where Plato himself intended that 
search to be successful. 

When we come to discuss the " Theaetetus " at length, 
we shall do our best to illustrate the particular object 
which its author had in view, but for the purpose of the 
present discussion a few preliminary remarks will not be 
out of place. The conversational style which Plato 
affected landed him in a difficulty of a quite exceptional 
kind. He exalted his master Socrates to the chief rdle 
in his dialogues. Nevertheless he could not and would 
not renounce altogether the controversial discussion of 
post-Socratic doctrines. We do not pretend that Plato 
was particularly at pains to avoid anachronisms. One 
thing, however, was plainly inadmissible. Socrates could 
not be armed for the fray against the champions of tenets 
which had arisen subsequently to his death. Now, in 
order to circumvent this difficulty, the ingenuity of the 
poet-philosopher had to cast around for artificial ex- 
pedients. At one time, for instance, his Socrates learnt 
of the existence of a doctrine " in a dream/' There was 
no other reason for this proceeding except that, inasmuch 


as the doctrine was due to his own pupil Antisthenes, he 
could hardly have heard of it through the orthodox 
channels of information. Now let us take the " Theaetetus " 
with its notable divergences from the " Protagoras." In the 
"Theaetetus" Socrates is represented as expounding and 
combating the theory of cognition which is described as 
a " secret doctrine " of Protagoras, and as very different 
from that which the sophist published to "the great 
multitude." An ardent admirer of Protagoras who took 
part in the conversation, and who was at the same time 
intimately acquainted with his chief metaphysical treatise, 
is plainly taken aback by the revelations of Socrates. In 
other words, Plato tells his readers, as clearly as the con- 
ventions of his self-imposed style permit, that he is making 
use of a fiction. His real object was to establish his 
position with regard to the theory of knowledge pro- 
mulgated by